deadly lover by charlee allden

The setting of Deadly Lover reminds me a lot of Sonya Clark’s Trancehack (reviewed here). Both are set in a near future where people who can practice “magic” are locked up in ghettos to keep they away from the rest of the population. When I say “magic”, I’m using the Arthur C. Clarke definition of “any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from” and not spellcasting.

There’s also a resemblance to the near-future setting of J.D. Robb’s In Death series. Deadly Lover takes place on an Earth that is ahead of us but not terribly far distant in time. The two visions of the future are different in the details, but the worlds aren’t that much different from our own.

In Deadly Lover, that difference has been caused by the introduction of the Ormney people into our midst. The Ormney are humanoid but not quite human – they have a native ability to travel similarly to a Star Trek transporter, but without using a machine. It’s an inborn talent, and some of them are better at it than others. It is also the way that the Ormney traveled from their dying planet to ours. It’s not clear whether their planet was merely far away in space, or in a different space-time continuum altogether.

There’s a certain amount of handwavium on this point, but it doesn’t get in the way of the story.

Also, just for added references, the place that the Ormney go to while they are unsyncing and resyncing feels a lot like the “between’ in Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. Without either the dragons or the rapey tropes that my friend Cass hates so much.

The Ormney have only been on Earth for 20 years, and interspecies relationships are still very much in the building stage. There is a lot of suspicion and fear on both sides, but not yet much real understanding.

Mostly because the Ormney are keeping a shit-ton of critical secrets.

Lily Rowan has already been exposed to a few too many of those secrets. In her job as a civilian security consultant working for a very secretive para-military research company, Lily was nearly killed when a training exercise went seriously pear-shaped and her Ormney teammate was poisoned and went bat-shit crazy.

Kiq went crazy because he was exposed to a toxin that works one way on humans, and an entirely different way on Ormney. A secret that was known to his people but not revealed until it was much too late.

And then it gets out, as important and dangerous secrets inevitably do.

The moment that Agent Lily Rowan is cleared for duty, she finds herself in the middle of a crime in progress – yet another Ormney is exhibiting the same symptoms as her training partner, and she is forced to kill him to protect civilians from his murderous rampage.

No good deed goes unpunished. Lily finds herself assigned to investigate the incident, and the series of dead bodies, both human and Ormney, that follows in its wake. Too many elements of the case mess with Lily’s peace of mind. The police detective assigned to the case is her estranged cousin. The chief human diplomat for Ormney-human relations is her ex-fiance, and the chief investigator from the Ormney side is a man that Lily finds all too compelling.

But Ormney have no interest in human females. Or is that another half-truth that the Ormney have allowed humans to believe? And is that the secret behind the rash of murders, or is it something even more deadly?

Escape Rating B+: This is a compelling story. I loved the way that the secrets were revealed slowly and carefully, because there are so damn many of them and they are at the root of this case.

However, at heart this is a romantic suspense story. What Lily has to do is investigate a series of murders, and figure out who the serial killer is, with the help of other officers who just so happen to be family.

Along the way she falls in love with her investigating partner, a man who should be off limits but isn’t. Jolaj, the Ormney Law Keeper who works with Lily, is not just a fascinating character but everything we learn about the Ormney culture adds depth to him and his side of this story.

Some of the more interesting aspects of the story were on Jolaj’ side of the equation – how much to keep secret, how much his people should adapt and assimilate, how much they should keep themselves separate, apart and isolated. Jolaj finds himself caught in the middle.

But it would have been relatively easy to remove the science fictional elements of this story and still have an interesting tale of romantic suspense. Especially when we discover that the villain is a peculiarly human kind of murderer – a psychopath who has been practicing his technique for every bit as long as the Ormney have been on Earth. They aren’t his real target, they are just an excuse for more and bloodier killing.

I will confess that I was lured by the red herring, and didn’t figure out who the real killer was until the protagonists did. Being along for the ride kept me flipping pages fast until the very end.

sci fi romance quarterly Originally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

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