4.5* – Book covers don’t affect me as much now that I mostly read ebooks as when I used to buy loads of paper books but even if I hadn’t loved the first book in the Payback series, the cover for this sequel would have convinced me to give it a try. It’s reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, one of my favourite movies of all times, and while the plot of this novel is pretty far from Rear Window, it has the same intensity.
I cannot stress enough that Fair Game should not be read as a standalone, even though you would understand the story perfectly. If you like it as much as I did, you’ll want to read Payback but it will have been spoiled on the first page of the sequel. Read Payback first. Trust me. And if you haven’t, stop reading this review – which I tried to keep as spoiler-free as possible but you never know – and get on with it.
After the events in Warner, Helen Taylor quit her job and has recently unofficially moved in with Lexi Ryan in Bristol. One night, she notices a strange person on the roof opposite their flat. In the following days, someone seems to be targeting Lexi. Once a copper, always a copper so of course Helen can’t stop wondering whether those incidents are linked to what she unwittingly observed, or could they be connected to her past?
Charlotte Mills knows how to take the reader for a ride. Just when you think you have figured out what’s going on, she turns that lead on its head. Even when you do get it right, she manages to make it exciting and thrilling. I don’t think my heart slowed down for a second after that scene very early on when Helen watches the roof. The pace never lets up. And while there’s nothing overly gory, there’s plenty of tension and gripping twists.
As in Payback, mystery and romance are of equal significance, and Mills allows both to shine. Lexi and Helen are still in the early days of their relationship and have already come close to losing each other way too many times. So, of course, they can’t keep their hands off each other. They’re not complaining, I am not either. The chemistry is real, and I really enjoyed the dynamics of their relationship. There’s a lot of lust and just as much tenderness, respect and teasing.
Helen and Lexi are far from the only interesting characters, however. Lexi’s mother, Lexi’s colleagues, Helen’s new boss, Helen’s former but loyal colleague, new neighbour Lilly, they all turn what should be an ordinary world into a mesmerising show.
If you like your crime novels to be complex and smart and include some hot romance between clever but fallible characters, this one is for you.