REVIEW: The Definitive Albert J. Sterne by Julie Bozza
Albert Sterne, forensics expert with the FBI, is so obnoxious on the surface that no-one bothers digging deeper. When he’s sent to Colorado to investigate what turns out to be the work of a serial killer he encounters Special Agent Fletcher Ash and they end up reluctantly joining forces to unravel the case. It’s only a matter of duty, though; it can’t be more, because Albert doesn’t do friendship – and he certainly doesn’t do love.
Dear Ms. Bozza:
This is a difficult book for me to categorize. Despite our heroes trying to catch the killer for the most part of the book, I do not think this book is a mystery. We learn the name of the killer several chapters after the book begins, so even though our guys learn his name much later, it is not a surprise for the readers. I guess I would call the book a police procedural or FBI procedural with romance mixed in but not dominating the story.
There is a reason why the killer is revealed to us early – the author gives us several chapters in the book through killer’s eyes. Note that these chapters are NOT for the faint of heart. When I was rereading this book for review I wanted to get through these chapters as soon as possible and was skimming some of them. There are probably five or six chapters in the book through the killer’s eyes – it is vital and necessary to the story – but I could have done without them, even though it is not that much for a book which has 35 chapters and an epilogue. I thought that one of the themes in the book was to try and understand the killer as much as humanly possible, but I am in general not a fan of figuring how and why monster’s mind works, and the sadistic murders just made me sick. I read and reread this book for Albert Sterne and Fletcher Ash, for their characters and their stories. Their friendship and romance are intertwined with trying to catch the killer, so I had to endure him.
Albert Sterne is without any doubt one of the most memorable characters I have ever “met” in the genre of mm romance or in any genre, really. I have to admit though, that when I started the book I expected to meet somebody more unpleasant than Albert ultimately turned out to be. Oh, do not get me wrong, Albert is plenty rude and very blunt, but first of all, he delivers his insults with such wit that I laughed every time it happened, and second his actions to me spoke much more loudly than his words.
I find it amusing that in real life I like people to be polite when they are talking to me and try to be polite myself, but I adore snarky characters in fiction so very much. And even in real life, when a person is blunt to the point of being insulting, if I feel that the person’s heart is in the right place, I will still respect that person.
Albert is a forensic pathologist with FBI and he is brilliant in what he does, but not many people like him, because this is how Albert talks to people:
“Dismissed!” And, as Albert reached the door, Jefferson muttered with what sounded like genuine regret, “If we were at war, I could have you shot for insubordination.
Albert snorted. “If I had the time to contradict everything in that rather absurd statement, I’m sure we’d both benefit. But I have a plane to catch”.
“Albert caught the tail end of the shared smile, and groaned. “McIntyre, you’re wasting my time asking me to be polite, for the sake of an infatuation with the doctor?” They had reached the prep room, where Albert and Celia began cleaning up. Albert pulled on a lab coat over his suit. “You must be trying to prove something trite like opposites attract”.
When Albert and Fletcher meet in the course of the investigation that will occupy them for years to come, they are not magically attracted towards each other but they are slowly but surely become friends. Fletcher sees beyond Albert’s walls, partially because Fletcher is portrayed as someone who can often read people very well, but I think it is also because he likes Albert and wants to know a complex person behind the façade. Their building relationship was fascinating for me to read about. Every time I thought I figured out their reactions towards each other and the reasons why they reacted that way, both men managed to surprise me.
Albert is a person who likes being in control of his life, so when he realizes that he is in love with the Fletcher, he wonders whether Fletcher is suitable for his love. Albert is a scientist and has built up some walls around his emotions, so of course it made sense to me that he would apply logic and reason to him falling in love.
“But beyond that, what sense did it make for Albert to love a man who seemed to lack qualities, such as self-control, that Albert particularly valued?”
I expected Albert’s character to develop so that he would learn to value his emotions more, to open up, etc. But the only obvious changes that happened in Albert were that he tried to accommodate Fletcher a little bit more and be there for him in a way that mattered. But whether those were personality changes or he just let his walls down a little bit, I am not sure. In any event, whatever happened worked perfectly for me.
I was also surprised at Fletcher’s reasoning for attempting to take the relationship with Albert from the friendship they shared to a new level. The more the story progressed, the more I wondered several times whether for all his intelligence and being able to read people correctly, Fletcher was lying to himself. I actually ended up thinking that the answer was not that simple. Fletcher could manipulate people very well, but he was also not always honest with himself when analyzing his actions.
I was so happy to see that even when I as a reader could see clearly that these men could not live without each other, Albert does not become a fluffy bunny that was really nice and polite to Fletcher. Oh I thought he was there for Fletcher every time he needed Albert, but the verbal expression of that love was so very Albert every single time. I loved it. I loved that Albert would call Fletcher on his manipulations and self –pity but would still stay.
As Fletcher says at some point in the book:
“This might not be perfect, what we have. It might be fraught with difficulties. You might not be willing to call it love. I might have lost my faith. But, Albert, I’ve come to realize that it’s necessary. You and me together, it’s necessary. That’s all. Very simple, really. And I’m willing to proceed on that basis”.
I also want to note that I do not know how authentic is the description of forensics pathology, FBI procedure and other technical stuff in the book. I felt that the story reflected great deal of research, but I do not know. I believed in it and I thought it was written in a very entertaining way, I was very happy that people who investigate murder were actually shown to do a great deal of actual investigating, but I am not an expert, so check it out and judge for yourself.
I recommend this book very highly, especially if you love snarky, complex heroes and if detailed descriptions of murder with torture do not scare you. A-
Interesting author. I think she was born in the US but now living in Australia. I loved her other book Butterfly Hunter which is set in Aust. How does she go with this book set in the US? I also hate reading the villain’s POV but I’m really tempted for this author. Do you think if I flicked quickly through the villain’s section I could still follow the story? lol.
Do you think if I flicked quickly through the villain’s section I could still follow the story?
In my experience, after years of working in a mystery-only bookstore, after reading hundreds of crime novels: without exception. Nothing vital is ever advanced for the reader by following the killer’s POV; nothing is ever lost by skipping those pages.
I love complex, snarky characters, especially in novels involving crimes, and this book would be an immediate buy, except that I hate with the fire of 10,000 suns storytelling from the killer’s POV. There is nothing noble about the killer, the reasons for his/her crime can be left to psychiatrists, imo, to figure out later. My heart and soul belong to the crime solvers, who work in the dark with the clues they find until they figure it out.
Whom does the killer’s POV benefit? For whom are those chapters/scenes written? If it’s simply to build suspense on my part because I’ll know something the investigators don’t, or to show how they discover the same information I’ve already seen, then stop, please. /rant
This sounded exactly my cuppa, and I was all set to buy it, until I discoverd it’s another @$%&! Amazon exclusive.
I don’t have and don’t want a Kindle, and a paperback price of almost twenty bucks is ridiculous. I know that it is possible (sometimes) to strip the DRM and convert, but I’m not going to pay eight bucks for the privilege of being forced to break the law.
@hapax: I am pretty sure you can get it from All romance in all formats? This publisher only recently started putting some of their books ob amazon. For the longest time they were only selling from their r r website.
@Sirius: Yes, I just checked and it is at All Romance. Here’s the link.
This sounds really intriguing. Thanks, Sirius!
@Darlynne: I thought the purpose was to study why he did it – I could do without it but I did not feel it was tackled on. I am ok with criminal’s poverty if the author finds something redeemable with him – but I saw zero redeemability with this one. I also think there was another reason to show his pov but I cannot talk about it for spoiler reasons and I actually think this was achieved without his po
Mandy I checked her bio just now – she says she was born in England, lived in Australia and came back to England. I loved Butterfly hunter too. I would say at least skim those chapters? When I reread for pleasure I skip them completely of course.
@Sirius — yay! and thank you!
I always forget to check AllRomance when I am doing my bookshop trawl. Time to add them to the top bar, I think.
@Sirius: Thanks for clarifying, Sirius. You’ve bolstered my point, that there are other ways to show us what is important about the killer/criminal, i.e., nuanced characterization, background. Generally speaking, no one is all good or all bad, and I have felt compassion, thanks to an author’s skill, for characters that are reprehensible. No one has ever explained to me, however, why the killer’s POV matters when other avenues are available.
I have always bought my books direct from Manifold Press & found them very pleasant to deal with. You might find you wait a couple of hours for the book as they email it to you, but they explain about this on the website.
I noticed that currently they are selling a ‘boxed set’ os the Complete Albert J Sterne – ie including the follow up book of short stories which continue and expand the characters in Albert j Sterne.
@RachelT: And so did I :). I have probably 95% of what they published on my kindle, however, I am so spoiled by one click that I am delighted that they started to put their books on Kindle. The fact that I am watching their website as a hawk for the new titles should tell how much I love what they publish. I may not love all their titles equally, but I have not read the book from them that I hated yet.
I love that they do follow their mission statement – “mm romance with plot” and do not do works where sex becomes plot IMO (there are sex scenes in their books of course, but often they are there as part of the plot and sometimes they fade to black too).
I will not be reviewing the sequel/prequel but if you will fall in love with Albert and Fletcher as much as I did, I do recommend it mostly for two stories which take place after the end of the book. The book ended up very satisfactory for me, but I thought the stories developed the romance even more very nicely.
@Darlynne: I think I am now confused. What I dislike about killer POV is the description of the murders, especially if we are talking about the monster. I do not mind seeing through the eyes of somebody who has some spark of redemption left, be in his head, etc as long as we are not watching him thinking about murders, tortures, rape, whatever.
Although actually I just now thought of the book which was an exception to the rule, but anyway, are you saying that as long as we are seeing what killer does through somebody else’s eyes it would not bother you? I am just curious. And in this story there is actually nobody else to tell us about what the killer does – no character in close vicinity to him so to speak, except the agent who is trying to figure him out (again, must keep my silence on that).
So of course she could have written a killer through somebody else’s eyes, but that would have been a completely different story IMO.
Hapax I hope you like the book, please let me know what you thought. Sunita, thanks so much for checking.
@Sirius: What I dislike about killer POV is the description of the murders, especially if we are talking about the monster. I do not mind seeing through the eyes of somebody who has some spark of redemption left, be in his head, etc as long as we are not watching him thinking about murders, tortures, rape, whatever.
I agree with this, but didn’t say it very well. I don’t mind reading about the crime through the eyes of an investigator–it’s why we call them “police procedurals”–or anyone else except the killer. I don’t want to be in the killer’s head under most circumstances, but definitely not when the crime is being committed. Does that make any sense?
@Darlynne: Oh yes, it makes sense, thanks for explaining.
I have Butterfly Hunter on my TBR and I’ll be picking this one up too. Can you tell me what the heat level is, just out of curiosity?
Hi Sirius; nobody else has mentioned a formatting error in ‘Albert’ so we’d be more than grateful if you could give us a bit of an indication where to find it/which section of the book it’s in, and that way we can make sure it’s resolved for future readers. Thanks you!
@Manifold Press: Hi, I am so glad you asked this question – because the part I thought was repeating were first three or four paragraphs of the text. But I looked again at my kindle for iphone app where I was rereading the book and I do not see it. As you can see I just deleted this paragraph from my review. Sorry about that – I am not sure how my eyes played the trick on me especially since I looked twice before.
@Kaetrin: I would say few not very explicit sex scenes – not sure in which heat rating it translates. Not very high I would guess?
@ Sirius- Never mind, these things happen! We would always want to know, though, if/when people have technical problems with our books; it’s very important to us to have a chance to put things right.
I bought this months ago and just never actually read it (oops) thanks for the great review makes me want to pick up asap. Can I ask why you won’t be reading the sequel?
I’m actually a little concerned about the formatting. In the excerpt at All Romance, there are 3 incorrect word breaks (com panion, accu sation, intel ligent) and an extra quotation mark at the end. That’s a lot of errors for a short excerpt.
Wahoo Suze, I actually loaned my book today so cannot check if my copy has those.
Cs I have read the sequel, I said I won’t be reviewing it :). I found this book hard to review but the sequel is the collection of the stories which goes back and forth between past and present of the characters. I kind of find it even harder to review and except stories which take place after this book I did not really care for them.
I think everything said was very logical. But, consider this, what if
you were to create a awesome headline? I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to run your blog, but what if you added a headline that makes people want more? I mean REVIEW: The Definitive Albert J. Sterne by Julie Bozza is kinda plain. You could peek at Yahoo’s home page and see how they create post headlines to get viewers interested.
You might add a related video or a picture or two to grab readers interested
about what you’ve got to say. Just my opinion, it might make your posts a little bit more interesting.
Japan style, I am afraid your comment left me confused. Review which has the title of the book in the subject heading is not exciting enough? I feel like I am missing the joke here.
Finally got around to reading this (long story). VERY intense, but I loved it —
Albert is exactly the kind of witty emotionally constipated character that I love in fiction but would hate in real life.
The chapters from the killer’s POV almost caused me to DNF, though, and are definitely skippable.
Hapax I am very pleased you loved Albert :). Yes when I reread I skip killer’s PoV myself .