Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Serial Killers Featured Review... Liquid Smoke by Jeff Shelby

Want to know more about the idea behind Serial Killers? This post is the place to start.

The first book that Odd and I are jumping into is the third book in the Noah Braddock series. Odd is our established reader and I'm new to the series.

Synopsis (Goodreads):
Private eye Noah Braddock has finally found peace in his once tumultuous relationship with Detective Liz Santangelo and has called a tentative truce with his alcoholic mother, Carolina. So when lawyer Darcy Gill demands that he look into a hopeless death row case, he’s more interested in catching some waves before San Diego’s rare winter weather takes hold. Then Darcy plays her trump card: the man scheduled to die—convicted of killing two men in cold blood—is the father Noah never knew.
My Thoughts: OMG NO WAI! Did you read that ending? I was all O.O And then I was all ...but, but, but... whyyyyyyyyyy? How did this.... I just.... I... I... *catatonic silence*  Seriously, guys, the entire last 3rd of the book was an emotional roller coaster ride. I was shocked, disgusted, shocked again, heart broken and otherwise thrown for a loop by the twists and turns. Well played, Jeff Shelby. Well played.

Coming into this book with no background on what had come before, I found Noah and his crew to be interesting and not at all difficult to follow. Although there were some mentions of happenings from previous books (some of which I gleaned were fairly BIG happenings), I was never left floundering or weeping in confusion. To be honest, I rarely weep in confusion. But that's neither here nor there. I didn't weep this time. Nope.

The biggest thing I noticed with this book is that so many of the characters tried their mightiest to manipulate Noah into doing things for them. For being someone who is trying like hell to do the right thing, Darcy was not my favorite person. She used Noah's emotions against him without caring about how it would impact him. Meanwhile, his father... well, let's just say that he impressed me with the lengths he was willing to go to. Not in a good way.

Now, I should back up here and say that both Carter and Liz are exceptions to this. Liz is quietly supportive and offers Noah advice when the topic of his father comes up. And she's spot on with many of the things she says. Carter doesn't have Liz's quiet grace. He's flashy and boisterous but he has Noah's back when the chips are down. This is even after being hurt by Noah keeping secrets from him. I love that whole bromance thing. It's makes me tingly.

The twists and turns are hard and brutal and the ending took my breath away. Did I enjoy this book? Based on the ending alone: Yeah, I did. Would I have been in an unstoppable emotional tailspin if I had read the first two books in the series first? I hesitate to think of my wide-eyed blubbering if I had. So, yeah. While I definitely liked diving into Noah's world, I wasn't nearly as invested in the characters as I would have been if I had started with book1.

However, this book was still a compelling read. Good choice, Odd.

Odd's Thoughts: Some books you start reading and you realize right away that you absolutely have to know the backstory. For me, Liquid Smoke was one of those books.

I was lucky enough to get it for free for the Kindle, but about five sentences in, I quit reading. I went back to Amazon and figured out which books came first, then I set about painstakingly acquiring them used at a serious discount because even though I'm an obsessive weasel I'm a pennypinching obsessive weasel.

The three books in the series (so far; if there's a sane god Jeff Shelby's going to read these reviews and put his Noah Braddock pants back on, stat) for me, read like this: white, gray, noir as a motherfucker.

In book 1, Killer Swell, the mother of a high school ex-girlfriend hunts PI Noah Braddock down in a bar and hires him -- much as it pains her -- into looking into her daughter's disappearance. Despite featuring corpses, marital infidelity, drug wars and Noah's own failing relationship with homicide cop Liz Santangelo, the book manages a hot n' flossy tone I rarely get to see while reading way too much crime fiction. It's funny. Very funny. And compellingly good character/plot/writing. Sat down, read the whole thing at one shot.

Book 2, Wicked Break, deals with a few more serious topics, like race relations, bad California parenting and more starkly corpsified corpses, but continues to fascinate with Noah's attempts to get his act together with Liz while in a committed brolationship with his best friend Carter.

(The Noah/Carter Show, aka We Are One Beer Away From Just Going For It, continues to be one of my favorite pairings in all of anything. Fanfic please?)

And then in Liquid Smoke, Shelby yanks the rug out of the whole shebang. It is bleak, is what I am saying. Major league gasp and flail bleak. (Um, I'm honorbound to point out that while it's bleakity bleak bleak, this also happens:
I tackled him, and we fell to the floor. "This is fun," Carter whispered as he rolled me over. I wrapped my arms around his head. "Just you wait."
They're fighting on the floor of a casino, purely for plot purposes.

(No, they're fighting. What did you think they were doing?)

And on the one hand, that the leap from book 2 to 3 is so drastic, and so dark and unrelentingly crushing to the protagonist feels like a betrayal of the contract between author and reader set up in book 1. But on the other hand, IT'S PERFECT.

Having read all three books, Liquid Smoke isn't just a good read, but it plugs a hole in Noah that was painstakingly constructed by the previous two books. So however much you were all OMG NO WAI at the ending, Kel, I was three times that much.


Our Thoughts:
Kelly: First off, excellent choice for our first read. In a lot of ways this isn't the type of book I'd think of picking up on my own (no supernatural critters, no steamy sex) but Jeff Shelby did a great job bringing Noah to life and getting him to worm his way into my head.

Odd: Well I figured you'd be throwing vampires at my head (and I was right), so I wanted to get my licks in while I could. This is exactly the type of chewy crime fiction I like, so I'm pretty overjoyed you like it.

Any thoughts on the Noah/Carter brolationship? I also want to point out that Liz, the homicide detective girlfriend, had much bigger parts in the first two books; as in, she had agency and went to work and had a spine, rather than sitting around gazing at Noah all starry-eyed. And as mentioned, I'm way more convinced on the Noah/Carter romance. That would, btw, make an awesome book 4.

Kelly: Yup. Vampires, they are a'comin'!

Noah and Carter were AWESOME! The whole fight scene in the casino... Dude, I LOL-ed like a mad woman. I particularly liked how butt-hurt Carter was that Noah had told Liz something and left him out of the loop. It rang true for me that he'd be upset that their bromance was being pushed aside in favor of Noah's relationship with Liz.

The biggest thing I loved about Noah and Carter, though, was that Carter was there for him- no questions asked- when Noah needed him most. That's just plain awesome.

Odd: See, I'm telling you, epic love story right there. But my biggest question is whether you liked this book enough to go back and pick up the previous two?

: You know what? I would. I wouldn't mind seeing more bromance and watching Liz and Noah's relationship unfold from the beginning.

Final Verdict: Unequivocal Epic Win

More books by Jeff Shelby


  1. Best. Review. Ever.

    And I'm putting my Noah pants on...

    1. Three cheers for Noah pants. And you know, pants in general.

    2. Odd: How are we friends? You know I started the #VivaThePantlessRevolution on Twitter, right? Geez! I don't know if our friendship can survive this.

      Jeff: You have Odd to thank for this. She is masterful at picking books for me that I wouldn't normally choose and being spot on with what will tickle my emotions. In other words, *points finger at Odd* she started it!

  2. Jeff happens to be a good friend, but that said, I am in awe of his courage. To do what he did at the end of Liquid Smoke takes incredible guts by an author, and most wouldn't do it. But he did, because it had to be done. It had to be done for the character and the story. And it was amazing. One of my favorite reads of last year, hands down.

    1. YES! What he did worked perfectly for the story and it was a heart-wrenching moment for both the characters and the readers. I, too, am impressed.