Thursday, March 2, 2023

Charlie Adhara - Pack of Lies

Julien Doran arrived in sleepy Maudit Falls, North Carolina, with a heart full of hurt and a head full of questions. The key to his brother's mysterious last days might be found in this tiny town, and now Julien's amateur investigation is starting to unearth things the locals would rather keep buried.
Perhaps most especially the strange, magnetic manager of a deserted retreat that's nearly as odd as its staff.
Eli Smith is a lot of things: thief, werewolf, glamour-puss, liar. And now the manager of a haven for rebel pack runaways. He’s spent years cultivating a persona to disguise his origins, but for the first time ever he’s been entrusted with a real responsibility—and he plans to take that seriously.
Even if the handsome tourist who claims to be in town for some R & R is clearly on a hunt for all things paranormal. And hasn't taken his brooding gaze off Eli since he's arrived.
When an old skeleton and a fresh corpse turn a grief errand into a murder investigation, the unlikely Eli is the only person Julien can turn to. Trust is hard to come by in a town known for its monsters, but so is time…

Comment: This is the first book in the Monster Hunt series, a spin off from the Wolf at the Door one, which I have already read. The author has decided to focus the attention on Eli, a secondary character from the main series, and now the manager of the retreat for rebel wolves who need to escape or just to be in a safe place for a while.

Eli is getting things ready to welcome the wolves who will see the retreat as a sanctuary. Since his friend Oliver and his husband Cooper have gotten the propriety after the events on the previous novel (the last of the main series), and because of its distance and seclusion, it will be the right place for those in need to rest for a while. One day, a stranger - not a wolf - shows up claiming he had car issues, after something crossed the road in front of him. The man is Julien Doren, a recognizable actor in his 40s who says he was driving to the Lodge, the nearby hotel for lovers of skying. The truth, however, is that Julien is in this isolated area to investigate the steps of his late brother, someone who dedicated his short life to investigate the paranormal such as Bigfoot and other mysterious creatures and that Julien thinks was killed over something he might have discovered even if he didn't think it mattered at the time. Eli is suspicious of Julien but they decide to unite efforts when bones are found and someone from the Lodge is murdered, but will they be on time to prevent further deaths?

The author has done a great effort in making this a novel to be read on its own. Still, I think it would be a lot easier to understand some passages or hints given by Eli, if one had read the other series first. I think his personality and behavior seem easier to accept when we have some kind of background notion, otherwise it might feel as if Eli is just too inconstant and hard to sympathize with, which I wouldn't say is realistic.

Eli is the main character in this series, and the books will be as much as his development as a character and his path into happiness as it will be about an isolated area meant to be a safe place for wolves who are going through situations he has lived as well. Added some mysteries and murders here and there, the atmosphere of this series feels - and will carry on being so - as a continuation of the previous one, which focused on Oliver and Cooper.

The setting of this novel is very moody, with all the winter elements and the vibe something might not be going on too well. I think the author did a good job letting us imagine why some people would want to be near the snow and all kinds of winter activities. It also helped with the idea they weren't surrounded by easy accesses and other people, making the area in which the action took place feel even more like a sort of "cabin fever" type of novel. I liked the mystery hints but this also meant that, with such a small cast of characters, the villain wouldn't be that hard to guess... nevertheless, I certainly didn't!

I think the use of Julien's brother as a motivation for why Julien was in that place, which seemingly isn't as crowded as the owners of the Lodge would want, is done well enough and adds sentimental justifications for some of Julien's actions too. Julien, as a guy interested in knowing what truly happened to his brother, seemed to be a very realistic character. It also helps that we learn things about him very slowly, and this made me think he had layers, which is always something good when we get to spend time in some character's head. The POV is divided between Julien and Eli.

Julien isn't a wolf and this another element on why his connection with Eli isn't all truths and sharing personal stuff. They don't have an immediate HEA or fulfilled romantic expectations, I assume this will be something that will develop as the books advance, as it happened with the other series. I'm curious, though, considering both their jobs and roles in life, on how they will have a solid HEA in the future if, at least geographically, it isn't that obvious if and how they could be together. I'm looking for to see what the author does with this.

The resolution to the mystery ongoing in this story isn't a big surprise but I liked how we got to have some closure even though the main story line is not finished. I hope the author also includes some more positive aspects regarding the wolves that will seek sanctuary because while I like the tension and the mystery, if no happy times exist too, the story feels as if it could lead too easily into dark/gloomy vibes and, to be fair, I hope this will be way more balanced than what this installment alone suggests.
Grade: 7/10

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