Ben’s “Gay” Book Breakdown | “Big Bad Wolf” series is a surprisingly sophisticated murder mystery, but not a guilty pleasure!

The Wolf At The Door

Cooper Dayton comes from a family in law enforcement. He now lives in Washington DC and works for the FBI…. or rather he used to work for the FBI until a shocking incident had six and half feet of small intestines removed after which he learned and even greater shocking truth. Werewolves are real and have been living in secret throughout the world, and it was a werewolf attack that caused Cooper to lose his small intestines. Because of that he was “requested” to join a very special branch of the FBI called the Bureau of Special Investigations, or BSI for short. They handle violent crimes committed upon humans where werewolves are suspected. There is also another federal organization called The Trust that is run by werewolves seeking to ease tensions within the BSI. It is here that through a special cooperative deal between The Trust and the BSI that Cooper is given a new partner named Agent Oliver Park, who happens to be a werewolf.

Their first case takes them to Florence Maine, a small town not far from Portland to investigate some violent murders that appear to have been committed by werewolves. It is here that Cooper starts to learn more about Agent Park and the type of reputation he commands among other law abiding, closeted werewolves. That is the other thing about Cooper. He too is in the closet, only in his case he’s gay, and wouldn’t you know it, apparently so is Oliver Park. As they start to get to know each other the murder mystery takes on some new aspects that ultimately leads to something utterly horrific that is quite literally too close to home.

The Wolf at Bay

Because of the first case that Cooper and Oliver closed they find themselves permanently paired, all the while pursuing a completely clandestine personal relationship. Cooper doesn’t fully know what to make of it because he believes himself to be utterly unlovable, but he enjoys his time with Oliver nonetheless. Because of that Cooper asks Oliver to accompany him to his family home in Jagger Valley in the area of Chesapeake Bay for his brother Dean’s wedding. It’s not a picnic for Cooper as his relationship with his father, a retired Sheriff for Jagger Valley, is terribly strained, especially since the passing of his mother years earlier from cancer. To make things worse, he never came out to any member of his family, and here he is taking his professional partner slash sex buddy (because there is NO WAY that Oliver could ever love Cooper) purely for selfish reasons that only make everything infinitely more complicated, especially when a decades old skeleton is found in the family backyard and Cooper’s father becomes the primary suspect in what now is regarded as a homicide. So now on top of trying to determine whom the real murderer is Cooper uncovers old family secrets that cause for father and son to look at each other with different eyes.

Thrown To The Wolves

Not long after returning from Jagger Valley for the wedding of Cooper’s brother Dean, Oliver, who is now Cooper’s boyfriend, receives a call informing him that his grandfather has died. Oliver knows he must return to his “pack” and asks Cooper to join him. Along the way they nearly get killed themselves in a car accident, and once rescued poor Cooper immediately starts to receive the “third degree” when it is learned that he is a HUMAN! It turns out that werewolves have learned to hate humans for not only destroying nature, but for also encroaching on their territory and committing horrific atrocities, for which the BSI will not get involved because they do not care about justice for werewolves, but only for humans. The situation becomes more sensitive when it appears that there might be a rival pack seeking to destabilize the Park family pack, now that the grandfather, who was the Alpha, is dead. Mistrust is being sewn at all turns, and in the middle of all of this is poor Cooper who continually has to hear from various members of the Park family that he is not good for Oliver. Then Oliver’s grandmother is attacked, but saved by Cooper, putting him on the trail for what is really going on, and do any members of the Park family pack have anything to do with this. This proves especially difficult when Cooper comes to suspect that Oliver is hiding things from him.

Looking at these synopses have any of you noticed one element that hasn’t appeared once? Give up? Despite the fact that I used the term werewolves, at no time did I ever actually mention any of them shifting or appearing as werewolves. That’s not to say that they don’t in any of these books, because they do appear. What’s more is that even in their human form there is a very strong wolf ethic that exists among them, both individually and as a pack, but author Charlie Adhara has instead chosen to put that specific element somewhat on the backburner, but never completely out of sight. Instead it is mostly treated as a characteristic instead of as a gimmick, and instead chooses to write a classic detective murder mystery tale. Because of this her trilogy has risen above the standard “guilty pleasure” that comes from most paranormal shifter (the specific sub-genre for these books) tales and has delivered a series of novels that are amazingly sophisticated, especially in terms of plot, character development, and analysis of wolf behavior.

For the human Cooper Dayton, when we first meet him in The Wolf At The Door we see someone who is more than just traumatized. He is actually dealing with a form of PTSD (although it is never actually discussed) from his attack and subsequent discovery of werewolves. Couple that with the fact that he came from a family that wasn’t particularly loving, especially from his father, and you have someone who is basically a bit of a mess. He is an incredibly efficient BSI agent and has an outstanding technique into getting in the mind of others, sort of as if he were profiling them. It is this skill that makes him an outstanding agent, even if he is hated by other agents in the BSI (a detail that happens towards the end of The Wolf At The Door). As for his personal life he is terribly insecure, which serves as an unusual counterpoint to Agent Oliver Park. With Oliver we see an agent who is incredibly self-assured and respected by all those who meet him. He’s stunningly handsome, yet never feels the need to lord it over others, and along with his wolf characteristics in observation and expression, makes him one of the most magnetic personalities imaginable.

When The Wolf At The Bay finally begins we see the beginnings of what could be something that looks like a possible relationship, except that Cooper doesn’t see it that way. His own insecurities prevent that from happening and as a result he also finds himself continually pushing Oliver away because Cooper just can’t imagine that Oliver might love him in return. Now because this second book is more about Cooper we don’t get quite as much character development for Oliver. Mind you it is there, especially in how he deliberately chooses not to shift and the ramifications that come from that, as well as how he comes riding in like the cavalry during a very critical moment for Cooper. Still, this story is really about Cooper. By digging into his past he is forced to face some unpleasant truths as well as have an emotionally intense confrontation with his father, who has been nothing but patronizing towards Cooper. The take away from this is the evolution that Cooper goes through because of his time with his family. There is no simple reset button that takes us back to the beginning. Cooper sees a definite growth in character, which results in growth in his relationship with Oliver.

With Thrown To The Wolves the proverbial shoe is now on the other foot with Cooper joining Oliver to go back to his town. While the book isn’t told in the First Person, the narrative employed is what is called “limited omniscient,” meaning that author Adhara has decided to use Cooper as her vehicle to the tell the story. She uses him in the third person, but also reveals to us his thoughts and observations as the plot moves forward. This becomes incredibly useful with the third book as we get a look inside Cooper’s mind as he observes the Park family pack, and how Oliver relates to it. We also get a sense of his frustration when he continually butts up against secrets, both familial and personal, because he’s simply a human. Throughout all of that he barrels on ahead to try to solve the death of Oliver’s grandfather, as well a murder and an attempted murder. All of the strong foundation that has been built with Cooper’s character in the first book is wonderfully reinforced here, essentially turning him from what started off as a character that no one liked to someone that readers could really get behind and invest in emotionally. Oliver on the other hand takes a different approach. Where he was strong and indomitable in the beginning, we now see him incredibly vulnerable and at one point almost broken, and it is through his relationship with Cooper that we see a moment of incredible tenderness and love that brings about a beautiful emotional healing for both Oliver and his relationship with Cooper.

Lastly, these are books written primarily for gay men to enjoy. This means there are some moments of graphic, sexual situations between Cooper and Oliver. I’ll admit it that I found them hot and stimulating, but they never overshadow the overall murder mystery. In fact those sexual moments actually further develop the characters of Cooper and Oliver as well as their relationship. They’re steamy, but they also serve a vital purpose to the story. In the end, these books have proven that gay literature, while it can have its steamy romance, can also set a very high bar in terms of its quality. The stories are interesting, the mystery is compelling and very well written, and the characters are incredible. Adhara has written a series of books that I refer to as perfectly economical, meaning that there is a perfect balance of plot and character development. Even the steamy sex scenes have a purpose for the character development. Absolutely nothing is wasted, and because of that quality I am happy to declare that Big Bad Wolf is no guilty pleasure, but a triumph in writing. My only hope is that Adhara has more wonderful stories to tell with these two incredibly amazing characters.

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