Title: Never Stay Gone
Series: Big Bend Texas Rangers: Book One
Author: Tal Bauer
Publisher: Amazon/Kindle Unlimited
Length: 361 Pages
Category: Romantic Suspense, Murder Mystery
Rating: 3.75 Stars
At a Glance: The murder mystery in this book has some great shocks and surprises to keep tensions running high in the search for and revelation of a serial killer, but Never Stay Gone is at its best when its aiming to make a romantic emotional impact.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Six bodies in a single grave… in the same West Texas country where Dakota left everything behind.
Every beat of my heart belongs to you.
Thirteen years ago, Dakota Jennings thought he’d found his forever when he fell in love with Shane Carson. But one afternoon shattered their love story, and both Dakota and Shane left Rustler, Texas, with broken hearts. Even now, Dakota is still feeling the agony of losing Shane. Sure, he’s a Texas Ranger, but that’s not how he wanted to live his life. All he ever wanted was to love Shane.
Loving you is the only time I feel alive.
Shane’s life was supposed to be different than this. There’d been a plan, ever since he was knee-high to his father. But falling for Dakota spun Shane’s world upside down, and for years, Shane has had nothing but the memories of all that he lost: Dakota’s gentle touch, and the sweetness of his lips, and the star-strewn nights they spent wrapped in each other’s arms.
West of the Pecos, there is no law.
When the Rangers get the call about six bodies being pulled out of a mass grave in West Texas, the governor sends Dakota to run the investigation. Dakota heads back to his hometown and comes face-to-face with the last man he ever expected to see again: only now, he’s Deputy Shane Carson… Dakota’s local partner assigned to the case.
There’s nothing Dakota wants more than a second chance with Shane, but so much is stacked against them: six corpses, a murderer on the loose, and history that refuses to stay buried. And the bodies keep piling up as Dakota and Shane try to run the killer down across the West Texas plains.
In a moment, everything changes: the hunters become the hunted, the past fractures, and all Dakota thought he knew comes tumbling down. Secrets break wide open as Dakota remembers—
This is West Texas, and out here, nothing is as it seems.
Big Bend County is a place of beauty and desolation, of secrets and small towns. Where the past and the present collide, and where nothing stays hidden forever.
Review: “The only thing I wanted in my whole life was to love you.”
Tal Bauer’s Never Stay Gone is billed as Romantic Suspense. The plot is indeed romantic, the murder mystery abounds in suspense, and thus it delivers what the author promised to do in his telling of a story that shamelessly plucked my heartstrings while also delivering some truly grisly detail in the process of an investigation into a string of murders in West Texas.
It takes some time for the story to get rolling, the beginning jumping straight into the particulars of a mass grave discovered in the desert, which was compelling to say the least, but then simmers a bit while introducing the means by which Bauer will bring his characters back together again after a thirteen-year-long separation that was instigated by Shane Carson’s fear—the fear of admitting to himself he’s gay, the fear of loving Dakota Jennings, and the misfortune of being born to a father who has his son’s life so entirely mapped out for him that there was no way for Shane to escape it. Shane did not control his destiny at the tender age of eighteen, destiny controlled Shane, and so he shattered Dakota’s heart, not with malicious intent but out of a sense of utter despair and helplessness.
Bauer’s lyrical illustrations of Shane and Dakota’s time together in the two years before they graduated from high school are so achingly gorgeous they almost hurt to read. The idyllic summer days, the moments they spent together under the stars, loving each other so fiercely and with the total abandon of youth and the plain joy of being in each other’s orbit where they dared to dream, are explored from a place where the entire future was unwritten, untold, full of optimism and potential, but was ultimately unachievable. Shane’s father made it clear, repeatedly, that being gay and being a star quarterback in college and then the NFL were mutually exclusive, so while Dakota was busy dreaming of and planning their future together, Shane was succumbing to his dad’s machinations until he’d convinced himself that what he shared with Dakota was just a phase.
When the two lawmen unexpectedly reenter each other’s lives, it’s at the gravesite in the desert where six bodies were discovered in various states of decomposition, and the author spares little detail to paint the picture for his readers of how gruesomely these women were dispatched and disposed of, nor of the autopsy investigation into their causes of death (you might consider that a caution if you tend to be squeamish). The tension between Shane and Dakota is thick, not because they hate each other but because they’re both still so desperately in love they don’t know how to handle being near each other again without surrendering to the need to touch and kiss and dream. If you love some good pining, there’s plenty to bask in here as they both take turns sifting through their memories and conveying how tangled up they were in each other, how much it hurt to be apart, and how much they both wish they could find a way to be together again.
The further along Shane and Dakota progress in their investigation of these murders, the more twisted the clues and the motives of the killer. There are some unexpected revelations along the way that complicate the case, and ultimately the addition of another victim to the body count impacts Shane in a deeply personal way. By the time this happens, Shane and Dakota have put the past behind them. Shane has bared his soul, attempting to purge the guilt of not being capable of articulating how much he loved Dakota and wanted to spend a lifetime with him all those years ago, and Dakota meets Shane’s confessions and self-loathing with a compassion borne on more than a decade of loving him. For anyone who expects to see a character be made to grovel for forgiveness for their mistakes, that does not happen here. Dakota simply meets and accepts Shane where he is, because to do otherwise would be cheating himself out of every precious minute going forward.
Never Stay Gone is at its best when its aiming to make a romantic emotional impact. The murder mystery has some great shocks and surprises to keep tensions running high in the search for and revelation of a serial killer, and I liked getting to know a bit about some of the characters who figured into that investigation—one in particular, Sheriff Heath Reed, Shane’s boss. I did find the pacing of the story to be a bit uneven at times, though, and didn’t feel the connection I believe I was meant to when the story went into deep detail about the victim who was an important component in Shane’s narrative. There were also some elements of the investigative process, specifically as Dakota is getting closer to unraveling the case, where he does a lot of “thinking out loud”, narrating his questions and answers to readers rather than, for example, giving us the payoff of the transactional nature of dialogue. Those issues were minimal within the context of my overall enjoyment of the story, and I look forward to the next book in this series.
You can buy Never Stay Gone here:
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