REVIEW: Tracefinder: Contact by Kaje Harper
What could an undercover cop and a drug lord’s pet psychic have in common? Brian Kerr has spent years hiding behind a facade of mental slowness. His brother and sister got all three of them off the streets and into a cushy life, under the protection of a dangerous criminal. But to keep that safety, Brian has to use his Finding talent to track down the boss’s enemies. Although he pretends not to know what he’s really doing, each Find takes its toll, and he’s trapped in a life he hates, losing touch with his true self. Nick Rugo’s job is to protect and serve the people of Minneapolis as an undercover cop. He isn’t closeted, but he isn’t out at work, and there’s a wild, angry side to him that he’s managed to keep hidden until now. When he’s assigned to bring Brian’s boss to justice, he intends to use anything and anyone it takes to do that. Nick initially sees Brian as a pawn to be played in his case, but he keeps getting glimpses of a different man behind the slow, simpleminded mask. As the two men get to know each other, it becomes clear they share secrets, some of which might get them both killed.
Dear Kaje Harper,
I think I just read a well written story (as your work usually is) which featured multilayered main characters. However, I am giving this book a dual grade, because the romantic relationship squicked me a lot. At the same time, I am not sure whether I correctly interpreted where you were going with the story arc for one of the guys, and if my interpretation was wrong, then maybe the romance wasn’t as weird as I thought it was? Basically, I had a headache trying to work out what the heck you were trying to do here but at the same time I think the book had a lot of depth and the guys were interesting.
Nick Rugo is a cop who in his free time likes to go clubbing and play pool, and often he will punch people who deserve to be punched (e.g., somebody tried to get the attention of a woman who did not want it and Nick punches him in the beginning of the book). He does not do anything more than that (apparently he needs to work out his aggression) and he is portrayed as a decent guy. During his visits to clubs, he goes to a club where the local drug boss, Mr. Marston, goes too, and Brian Kerr and his brother show up there as well. Nick is kind of a familiar figure to them – not too familiar, but they have seen and noticed him.
“Here he was No-Knife Nick, known for starting fights as well as ending them. Also known for the time he took out a guy wielding a machete with one lucky punch. In this boonies dive bar, it was his claim to fame. Fists of steel, no knife needed”.
The police discover that Nick frequents that particular club when a crime occurs there, and after briefly checking that Nick was not involved, undercover operatives decide to ask Nick to get involved, since he is a familiar face to the drug lord’s servants/employees and they can skip the initial phase of trying to infiltrate the organization.
Nick agrees. His introduction to Marston’s organization slowly takes place and he even manages to earn some trust and gather evidence, but nothing happens overnight. I really enjoyed reading about how that part of the story developed. But then there is Brian. I should note that Brian has had a crush on Nick since he first saw him in the club.
Brian has a supernatural talent – he can Find people, based on the trace they leave on the objects they carry with them. This is the main reason Marston wants Brian: that’s why he uses and abuses his talent, that’s why he employs Brian’s brother (who is deep in some illegal shit), and that’s why he married their sister Lori (because he hopes more supernatural talent will appear in the next generation). Mr. Marston uses Brian to find people he wants dead or at least badly scared. In addition, Brian also seems to have a disability. I mean, he definitely has a disability and probably more than one, but what I am trying to figure out is the extent of that disability.
You see, almost all his life Brian has been pretending to be somebody else, someone named Bry. Bry speaks in simple phrases, repeats stuff, and clearly does not comprehend everything going on around him.
Brian, on the other hand, comprehends a lot, has a complicated personality, and also has a mild disability which affected his life a great deal – he has dyslexia, and nobody in school bothered to work with him and teach him to read. At his brother’s insistence, Brian left school at sixteen.
However, to complicate things further, it appears that Brian is not always pretending to be Bry, based on these passages:
“He needed someone to tell his confusion to, and his fears. Someone who might say it was okay to be two people in one body. Or not because probably it wasn’t .” – location 1269.
“There were days he convinced himself that he was just acting a part when he was Bry. Then were there were days like this, when he knew to his core that he was something less than normal”- location 1940
“I’m Brian, but Bry is the stupid me.” – location 2156
“Maybe?” Brian looked back at the river. “I used to think I only pretended to be Bry. When it was safer. When it was useful. But now, sometimes I think I don’t get to choose who to be. It just happens” – location 2156.
“I don’t know. Brian, sometimes you are that guy I would love to have met in the club or in the bar somewhere. And sometimes…” “And sometimes I am the guy who should hold somebody’s hand to cross the street” – location 3431.
Moreover, at least once in the book someone who gets the information from a believable source says that Brian has “dissociative personalities disorder”. If that is true and Brian cannot completely make Bry go away (and maybe book two will reveal additional information which will make it clearer for me), doesn’t Brian sound like somebody who has a diminished consent capacity?
I just did not find the development of a romantic relationship with Brian (if he is indeed that ill), especially before he gets adequate help, to be a very appealing story.
I wonder if maybe the author wanted me to see parallels between the two men, because in a sense Nick was also kind of divided? When he went to clubs and punched people as a way to release his aggression, he was “Nick Nock.” But this was not a person with a multiple personalities disorder, this was Nick allowing himself to be way more aggressive than he would allow at work. So I just don’t know; I do know that this story confused me.
And let’s not forget that as much as Nick resisted getting involved with Brian (not nearly enough if you ask me), in the end he was an undercover cop messing with one of the suspects. He knew very well that he was making bad choices, though, and because it seemed that for once the subject was treated seriously enough, I am willing to suspend judgment on this aspect and see where book two takes us. But bad choices should have bad consequences, in my opinion. Normally I would want to throw my kindle against the wall when I see this storyline in my romances, but here I’m really torn. We shall see, I guess?
Please also note that while the ending is not a cliffhanger, it is *barely* and I mean *barely* HFN.
This was another book where I struggled with rating and ended up with the dual grade.
As I tried to explain, as it stands now (and subject to change of course), romance squicked me out and gets C-. The rest of the story – undercover investigation, character development irrespective of romance gets B. That’s the best I could do and I do realize it is far from perfect.