This is one of the most frustrating books that I’ve read in a while.
What I liked – I’m a big fan of mystery/romance. I love mixed genres, and First You Fall is a good mystery (and more mystery than romance.) Kevin, our cute young male escort MC finds himself adding “amateur sleuth” to his repertoire of skills (alongside being the receiving end to a gentle, wannabe sadist and delivering comfort for a hot hacker agoraphobe). A friend has fallen to his death, but Kevin is sure it wasn’t suicide, and once he starts digging, he starts finding a mess of connections, ones that gets dirtier and more twisted the further he investigates.
The mystery was good and had a lot of potential paths. I did not guess the truth, which is always a plus. Kevin is an appealing, funny, upbeat and resilient presence, and his escort job is more colorful and humorous than other dreary rent-boy stories. (Kevin’s profession is born more from the easy money and amiable clients than from an abused past or a broken home.)
The side characters are also colorful, amusing, and fun—especially Kevin’s sleuth partner Freddy, a guy who always has his radar up for the next hot man who might be in reach, and Marc, the shy, genius hacker who Kevin visits, but who is so sweet, their “sessions” never feel like part of his escort job.
Sherman is also very adept at characters and their voices, and everyone had their own distinct voice. I was super impressed when he made one character so scarily persuasive, it was like watching one of the scenarios spin out from The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence. (People, if someone won’t take “no” for an answer, at all, it’s a good sign to back away.)
What was harder: Sweet Jeebus, I don’t think I could give a shit less about Kevin’s love interest than what I felt for “his” Tony, a closeted, married cop who had been his first teenage love, but who had left him, only to reenter his life when Kevin’s friend was killed, still carrying his back-and-forth attraction for Kevin. “You’re so cute.” “Oh, but I’m married.” “I’m not gay. You know that, right?” “Oh, but the *things* you do to me, Kevvy...”
The irony is that Sherman is VERY CAPABLE of creating likeable characters. Pretty much every other guy, except the suspects, are all better choices for Kevin’s attentions. (Freddy! Marc! Romeo!) I don’t understand why he centered on drab, colorless Tony, who felt more like a stereotype of the “straight?” cop love interest than anything else. It was like…someone pointed him to Josh Lanyon, and said, “This guy sells books. Look at all those law enforcement MCs! Look at Jake Riordan! People fell in love with him, even though he jerked Adrien around for multiple books!” That or Sherman really wanted to work out his own thing for “straight?” love interests.
Well, I will tell you--Tony is no Jake Riordan. Even in book 1 of Adrien English, where nothing super-sexy progresses between him and Adrien, the back-and-forth that he was struggling with was way more raw and evident. Whereas here, following Kevin’s forlorn love for Tony was so innately unsatisfying. At one point, I left a reading status of “I feel more sympathy for a wet load of laundry that has been left in the washer overnight than I feel for Kevin’s thing for Tony.”
I honestly don’t understand why Sherman picked Tony to be Kevin’s love interest. Was it because Tony might help “straighten” Kevin out from his escort job? Was it to hold on to the theme of “first love”? I don’t know, but I did not give a shit about their relationship, and I mostly felt that Kevin was missing out by holding on to his Tony dream. This pretty much lost the “heart” in the story for me, so only the mystery was left.
I also agree with the points in Emma’s review. There is some anti-fat/women humor in here that was absolutely not necessary for the story’s progression. Making fun of heavy women and how they’re considered unattractive (and here, posited as unfit to be loved at all), It’s what I qualify as “cheap laughs”, like having a visually impaired person walk into a wall. “HA! HA! They walked into the wall ‘cause they can’t SEE!” The humor is very base-level, is not at all clever, and really dragged things down. There’s also the appearance of the villains,
You can say that being from 2008, maybe that cliché villain still felt “fresh”, but I doubt it, and it’s one that doesn’t age well in a growing genre.
So, mad props to Sherman for creating a fun main character in Kevin, excellent side characters, a twisty mystery, and a terrible romantic subplot. On the plus side, I have no desire to read further in Kevin’s journey to redemption/love, which will save me some moolah since both book 2 and book 3 are more than $9 for the ebooks.