Guest Review: The Warfield Hotel Mysteries, #1-3 by C.J. Baty

As he approaches his fortieth birthday, Justin Warfield feels alone, drifting like the sand that blows along the beach near his family’s hotel. He has done exactly as his father wanted. Married the right girl and carried on the family tradition of running the Warfield Hotel. On paper things seem perfect, but happiness hasn’t been a part of his life for a very long time.

Marcus Drummond once spent a summer with his best friend Peter at the Warfield Hotel and fell hard for Peter’s much older brother. Five years later he’s back, and this time hopes that Justin will see him as more than his kid brother’s friend.

Sparks fly when the two meet again, but there are a few things standing in their way. The closet that Justin has himself buried in and someone on a killing spree, dumping bodies on the Warfield beach . . . victims that indicate Justin may be involved in some way.

3.25 Hearts for books 1 & 2 as a whole.

Guest Reviewer - Annery 

Readers should be forewarned that the first two books in this series have to be read/reviewed together if you’re hoping for any kind resolution to the “mystery” or semblance of a satisfying romance. I use the word mystery only in the loosest of terms.

When I spotted these up for review my heart did a little pitter patter. Romance & mystery are my jam, my cup of tea, and my catnip. This was none of those.

The Warfield Hotel is one of those idyllic southern hotels in Beaufort, S.C. and you may be getting ready to book a room but refrain from the impulse. Not because dead bodies are showing on the beach but because there’s more campy drama in and around this town than in whole seasons of many daytime or nighttime soaps, no mystery, and if you stop at the first book, an unsatisfying romance.

Justin Warfield is still gorgeous at 40 and counting the days until he can be free from the unhappy marriage that was foisted on him. He knew he was gay but bended to his father’s will and got married however this didn’t prevent him from having a couple of affairs or even belonging to one of those fabled sex clubs that exist in every other romance book. Things happen. In spite of the ongoing infidelities, which I’m not really bothered about, Justin is a good, honorable and stand up guy but I’d also say dim. He’s a good brother, friend, and employer. He’s getting ready to celebrate his brother Peter’s 25th birthday which also brings Peter into his inheritance of half of the hotel easing Justin’s divorce from his wife Caroline. Peter brings along his friend Marcus who’s had the hots for Justin since he first started visiting The Warfield with Peter during school breaks. Now at 26 he’s hoping that Justin will see him as a man and that something can develop between them. What ensues is craziness.

I don’t know how much is too much to give away for those who may love this kind of drama so I’ll be as oblique as possible. The bodies of men who have a connection to Justin start appearing near the hotel. Someone is either trying to frame Justin or kill him. Marcus is a budding P.I. but he does very little investigating and as far as the reader is concerned none is needed. We know who the villain is and frankly it’s shocking that Justin, Peter, and Marcus don’t. There are a couple of secret babies, affairs, some recent and some from the past, crazy soon to be exes, a couple of close calls for Justin, extreme homophobia from one character, and more. So much more. All of this just in the first book! If you have a high tolerance for faux drama you’ll be happy until the last two chapters kick you in the ovaries because though the reader knows what’s happened the MCs don’t and like salt on a wound they’re not together when the book ends. Weirdly that’s the only thing that makes sense. By the end Justin is not emotionally stable enough to embark on a relationship. A note of honesty.

Justin Warfield ran away to Italy to put the events of last summer and a certain dark-haired private eye behind him, to no avail. If anything, he can’t help but rehash what happened over and over. When he finally returns to South Carolina, the hotel he runs with his brother has suffered a series of incidents that are starting to look less accidental after a death threat is received.

Not satisfied that Moses Lee and his local police will find the culprit, Peter Warfield calls in the services of his good friend Marcus Drummond to help. Marcus is torn. He wants to help his friend, but he also knows that if Justin has moved on after their failed flirtation last summer, he will be devastated.

Tensions mount as danger seems to follow them at every turn, stalking them as they get closer to solving the mystery of who is behind the sabotage of the hotel.

3.25 Hearts for books 1 & 2 as a whole.

CRASHING WAVES, book 2, starts three months after the events in book one. Justin has been trying to get over much of what happened and also over Marcus who has started his P.I. business in Atlanta. When “strange” things and “accidents” start happening at the hotel and to Justin in particular, Marcus comes to aid in spite of his bruised heart.

Book two features the same omnipotent and omniscient villain and our sweet southern men continue to be as clueless as ever. I don’t want to give any of the “mystery” away because at heart I’m a good person but there was one thing that had me shaking my head vigorously NO at the improbability of it. Justin and Peter’s father was a collector of expensive, rare, and vintage cars which he stored in a barn located on the property where the family manse is. Warfield père has been dead for 15 years and in all that time neither one of the two Warfield sons has gone inside said barn once or seen any of the cars. Really???

Aside from the non-mysteries we have two more secret babies, childhood sweethearts torn apart and family secrets that go back a generation or two. All of this could be taken in stride while one has a drink or a bottle and I confess that I kept flipping the metaphorical pages wondering what the author would come up with next.

So why the rating? Because in spite of myself I was entertained by this crazy train. I liked Justin and Marcus, the age difference and how it was sort of a non-issue, I liked the development of the romance between them over the course of the two books, it felt true and organic, and they’re not chest pounding alpha males. Their cluelessness sprang from perhaps being too good as human beings? The writing was good, though not necessarily moving, and the descriptions of the area show a true love of place and knowledge of geography. Also the books are well formated. One thing that did niggle at me was the description of black characters. I don’t think there was intentional racism but the black characters in the book are either victims, villains, or faithful retainers reminiscent of Gone With the Wind. I don’t know. My skin prickled a bit.

By the end of Bk.2 evil has been vanquished, the couple for the next book has been set up, and Justin & Marcus are well on their way to HEA. Small favors.

Damien Fitzgerald has lived through hell and is determined to never let anyone get close to him again. A fervent reporter, he throws his life into his work and doesn’t care whose toes he steps on. But someone else does. He’s got a stalker, and the messages are growing increasingly threatening. He turns to his best friend, Justin Warfield and his lover, Private Investigator Marcus Drummond. Seems like a good idea until Robert Wyler becomes part of the package.

Robert Wyler, the manager of the bar at the Warfield Inn, has always been misunderstood. Sure he takes care of his body, wears his hair long and likes tatts, but that doesn’t mean he’s domineering. A cold exterior hides the more passionate man inside. Men like Damien Fitzgerald get on his nerves. Too good looking. Too arrogant. But when Justin and Marcus needed his help to guard the man from a stalker, Robert couldn’t say no.

Damien and Robert have a history. Whenever they are near each other sparks fly. Can Damien and Robert get past their prejudices to find the real men hiding underneath. Will they find love before the stalker gets to Damien and their chance at happiness is destroyed forever…

2.5 because someone is bound to like it

This is the third installment in this series but can be read as a stand alone. There is reference to the characters from the previous two books and the history for these two is set up in the prior installment but the author does a fairly good job of rehashing the important parts. That’s the good news.

As much as I kicking and screaming liked the first two I kind of hated this one. Once again the whole mystery aspect of the story is just kind of decorative but I’d resigned myself to that and was just hoping to see more of Justin & Marcus and maybe enjoy a new couple. Sadly one half of that new couple is Damien Fitzgerald. Let’s just say that if he ended up dead by the end of the book I wouldn’t have been unhappy.

Damien is a renowned investigative journalist who travels far and wide to bring scumbags to justice. He and Justin were once an item but have long since just been good friends and when Damien’s nerves are frayed to shreds over a menacing stalker he allows Justin & Marcus to offer him refuge at The Warfield. Marcus takes on the the stalker case and feels that Damien needs to be kept hidden. Robert Wyler, bartender at the hotel, and a friend, offers to help and ends up taking Damien to his isolated cabin. We all know what comes next and that’s fine. My problem again is Damien. He’s insufferable and annoying. He spends half his time unreasonably yelling at Robert or swishing out of rooms and slamming doors. I’m sure he’s meant to be justified due to a harrowing sexual experience in his past and I felt for him but his behavior is inconsistent on the sexual front and during non sexual interactions he’s just a plain snob. It’s okay to lead the Whole Foods life but if you’re at the County Fair you eat the fried Twinkie with a smile. Damien only eats salads and other healthy things and looks down on those who don’t. Ugh.

On the sexual front Damien was the victim of an abusive sadist, within what he considered a consensual BDSM relationship. Since then he’s shied away from any kind of domineering lover. Totally understandable. Robert is a big guy who, because of his size, people assume is the Dom type and he absolutely is not. And yet there are a couple of scenes where Damien seems to be turned on by Robert holding him tight and then there’s Robert’s voice being the only thing calming him during panic attacks. Sadly none of this is satisfactorily explored. Disappointing. I found myself wishing that a different writer could take this couple and their story and write about them without the bells and whistles of the mystery. No such luck.

It’s not malicious and it’s competently written but I can’t recommend it.

Review copies were provided.

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