Review: Hard Bitten – M.K. York

Review: Hard Bitten – M.K. YorkHard Bitten
by M.K. York
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: March 5, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Romance
Pages: 293
Reading Challenges: Read Harder 2018, Title Hunt Quarterly Challenge: January - March 2018
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Rule number one: hands off the witness

As a newbie public defender, Mark Eliades is stuck defending DUIs. But when his latest client gets charged with felony arson, the result is a career-making case he has to win. The last thing he needs is to fall for his key witness. Any hint of impropriety and his credibility will be shot, along with Mark’s case. But the more time Mark spends with the jaded private investigator, the more the rules began to blur.

Tired of endless nights chasing people who don’t want to be found, private investigator Lukas Nystrom needs a change—and a guaranteed paycheck. When a high-profile contract with the state falls in his lap, he can’t screw it up. Even if it means ignoring his growing desire for the hotshot attorney who hired him.
Convinced their client is innocent, Mark and Lukas team up to investigate the crime. With the trial looming and every lead gone cold, they work relentlessly to uncover the truth. But keeping things professional while searching for evidence they need might just make this the hardest case they’ve ever taken on.

This book is approximately 90,000 words
One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!

Carina Press acknowledges the editorial services of Anne Scott

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This was delightful!  It’s not exactly what I was expecting, but I was quite happily surprised.  While I wouldn’t exactly call either character “hard-bitten,” I think the title does set the tone for a riveting legal procedural mystery.

Mark, a fairly new public defender in Seattle, is excited when one of the senior defenders invites him to help her with a case since their defendant is the same – a woman who was initially pulled over for a DUI (Mark’s speciality) and then later charged with setting fire to her former place of employment and killing her ex-boss.  While Mark’s client is undeniably a train wreck, things aren’t quite adding up, and they hire Lukas, a private investigator, to help dig out the truth.  Lukas’ good looks – “Super Scandinavian. He looks like you could buy a kit for him at IKEA” – and Mark’s sense of humor initially draw them together as friends, and after an is-he-gay/isn’t-he-gay dance, their developing attraction is hard to ignore.  But, with Mark’s insistence on not sleeping with a witness – and as PI for the case, Lukas will definitely be one – can they be friends without benefits, or will this case end their relationship before it begins?

“‘I can’t—you can’t ask me to stop being what I am.’
‘And what is that, exactly?’
‘I believe in the letter of the law. It’s what I do. It’s all I do, and I’m good at it. Finding, finding compromises, sure, but I can’t—violate it, and still do what I do. I can’t sit there and know I’m doing the wrong thing.'”

 As a warning – this is an extremely slow-burn romance, and there’s a lot more focus on the murder investigation than the romance itself.  I still enjoyed the romance, and I thought the tension was maintained well, but this definitely reads more as a legal procedural / mystery with a hefty dose of romance than a straight-up romantic suspense.  And by extremely slow-burn, I mean that it takes the majority of the book before the characters get together, though they have an extremely good reason, as it could jeopardize the case if it’s found out they’re in a relationship.  At first, I was vaguely skeptical of how that would happen, but Ms. York worked in a conversation that laid out, exactly, how badly a cross-examination could go if there was even a hint of impropriety.  Luckily, they have a few slip-ups along the way that helped keep the thread of sexual tension running throughout the rest of the plot.  Also, thankfully, the mystery was engaging, and I was fascinated by the descriptions of life as the new guy public defender and an established private investigator.  I loved Mark and Lukas’ banter together, from arguing over what kind of snacks to bring on a stake-out to teasing Mark about his complete lack of knowledge of how to paint a room.  It was the perfect mix of two people who were interested in each other but still wanted to remain professional, and they both had amazing senses of humor.  The secondary characters were also fun, from Lukas’s football buddies to Lena, the other public defender, and provided more insight into Mark’s and Lukas’s backgrounds.
“Lukas turned his back to Mark and bent down to put the beers in the fridge. His jeans were worn so thin (full! of! holes! Mark’s brain unhelpfully supplied with great emphasis, circling them and underlining like sports commentators drawing plays on the video of the field, arrows, skin visible here) that very little was left to the imagination, and his shirt was long-sleeved, but painfully tight.”
In terms of cons, it’s mentioned that Mark is out of the closet – there was actually an article written about him being an openly gay legal student – while Lukas is not, and while they both talk about it with each other, I’m not certain exactly why Lukas being in the closet was emphasized so much.  In the main part of the book (there is a short epilogue), they barely get into a relationship before the book ends, so I wasn’t expecting a big “coming out” scene.  The best I can guess is to show that Lukas has very little experience with relationships, as compared to Mark (who reminisces about kissing the football tight end under the bleachers).  It’s quite possible that cishet me is completely missing the point!
Overall, this was a riveting, enjoyable read.  Recommended for anyone looking for a suspenseful legal thriller with a dose of romance!

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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