In years past it was believed that to write a male/male romance story it would mean it had to be smutty, probably even categorized as erotica. I admit that I have read a book or two that fell into that category but as LGBTQ visibility and recognition began to increase so did various art forms that catered to this community. Even now there is a growing number of non-LGBTQ writers producing novels and short stories for a market that has sorely needed it. One such author is Aimee Nicole Walker and she has released a romance trilogy featuring two male detectives in a relationship together, all the while having to solve some pretty grizzly murders and crimes in Savannah Georgia.
When the story begins we are introduced to Detective Royce Locke and he is very damaged. He has recently lost his work partner (Marcus who committed suicide) and the police chief has been trying to get him another partner to work with. His bitterness only succeeds in pushing all of them away. From here we are introduced to Sawyer Key (Do you see where this is headed?) who has been assigned to the Savannah Police Department. It is hoped that he might become the partner that Detective Locke needs. Naturally, it doesn’t work out at first, but Sawyer can be a rather sanguine and determined fellow. It also doesn’t hurt that he sees something in Royce that he hasn’t seen since his own husband died two years earlier of cancer. Through sheer force of will Sawyer manages to get Royce to open up enough so that they can work together. While working a serious double murder case they lower their emotional barriers and sparks begin to fly when one who is fearless and the other who is relentless finally chooses love.
Of course, now that Locke and Key have taken that step to become a couple they now have to constantly keep their relationship a secret otherwise one of them would be transferred due to the inappropriateness of detective partners also being romantic partners. Nevertheless, they strive to make their relationship work, but each one is still hanging on to the past. Sawyer hasn’t fully moved on from his time with Vic, and Royce continues to battle with his feelings towards Marcus. It only gets worse when he tries to help Marcus’ widow receive death benefits. It doesn’t help matters any when mysterious arson fires burn down sketchy areas of Savannah. Then there is the final case that Royce and Marcus worked (before Marcus’ suicide) regarding a serial rapist and murderer. The fiend looks as if he will be getting out of jail due to missing evidence. This all culminates with a horrible fire that has burned Sawyer, and a very important confession tape lands in Royce’s hands.
Royce now has to contend with a recovering Sawyer as well as a serial rapist and murderer named Humphries who has been released from prison. Royce feels nothing but an obsession in trying to nail Humphries to the wall, but his impatience only serves to get him into deeper trouble with the new police chief. When he learns that Humphries’ defense attorney has decided to reveal some new evidence that would bury both her client as well as her career, Royce and Sawyer methodically chip away at the clues that might explain how Humphries got out of jail, what happened to the missing evidence, and maybe even manage to put him away for good.
Admittedly I have very little experience with police or detective novels so any of the literary specifics that make a good book might very well be lost on me. Still, from what I’ve read in this trilogy it seems that Aimee Nicole Walker has a pretty good understanding of police procedurals. The atmosphere she describes has such rich detail that one could almost feel as if they were in a police precinct HQ, or even in a patrol car listening in on Locke and Key as they discuss the facts they have uncovered on the specific case they are working. Walker does borrow a gimmick where in the last portion of the book the story becomes a runaway train that could threaten to end the life of either Locke or Key. It could be said that this is formulaic, but it is not without a good reason for in each instance the crisis of the story became so thrilling that I was holding my breath until I finally arrived at the end of the book, both out of breath and exhausted. It is a gimmick, but I don’t mind because she writes it so well! As for the characters, each player is wonderfully unique and fully fleshed out. This did a wonderful job of pulling me in because I was immediately invested in who these people were, especially that of Royce Locke and Sawyer Key. What is also beautiful is that these two men are flawed and damaged. Royce is deeply troubled by his best friend’s suicide and the grief within Sawyer’s very soul has made him vulnerable in ways even he didn’t realize. And yet, despite their shortcomings, each one looks to his moral compass and strives to do what is right even when there is the temptation to do otherwise. Not only are these characters likable, but they are also relatable. Walker has not written cookie-cutter heroes who are spotless. Instead, she has crafted characters who are every bit as human as any of us.
It has been a joy to read the Zero Hour Trilogy and I look forward to the next adventures of Locke and Key.
For having stories that are equally plot and character-driven, I give the Zero Hour Trilogy 5 out of 5 police badges!!!