I started this at the end of my vacation, so I'm going to call it a "vacation read" and skip out on listing read-alikes.
I'm kicking myself for not reviewing this weeks ago, when my memories were fresher. Oh well, I'll do my best.
Back in 2011, Melinda Beasi wrote a post for Manga Bookshelf titled “Fanservice Friday: Intimacy porn.” In it, she writes about intimacy being a big draw for her, and includes a few examples. It took a few years of percolating, but I now think intimacy is what I look for too, in all kinds of stories. In my experience, intimacy tends to be easier to find in romance novels, but even in those it's not a sure thing. Binary Witness was a wonderful surprise – it's a mystery that doesn't have what most people would call a romantic subplot, and yet it's full of intimate moments.
The story is set in Cardiff. Jason is an ex-con who desperately wants to get a job so that he can get out of his mother's house a bit and do something useful. Amy is an agoraphobic hacker who helps the police by piecing together information she finds via social media, forums, CCTV, and more. Their paths cross when Jason gets a job as a housecleaner and is sent to clean Amy's place. She refuses to let him in, at first, but he's persistent, and it's not long before he's cleaning her kitchen and making her a cup of tea and something to eat. Amy is not very good about taking care of herself, by the way - things like personal hygiene and eating end up on the back burner a lot.
It's Amy who confirms that a couple missing young women are not only dead, but also probably killed by the same person. Jason starts off on the sidelines, but eventually becomes more involved in the investigation, helping Amy get whatever information the police can't give her and that she isn't able to track down with her beloved computer.
I have to admit, the weakest part of this book, for me, was the mystery. It wasn't that I figured out who the killer was too soon – I didn't know who he was until it was revealed late in the book. The problem was that the mystery felt...mundane? I'm not sure that's the right word. It felt like the sort of thing that might easily be solved in another series, more filler to give the characters some reason to interact with each other than anything else. At times, Amy seemed to have so much information at her fingertips that it was hard to believe that she hadn't managed to track down the killer yet, although I suppose it could be argued that she had too much data, making it harder to find the truly relevant stuff hidden in all the noise.
The story was told from quite a few POVs: the victims, the killer (who eventually adds rape to his list of crimes, FYI), Jason, Amy, and Bryn (Amy's most trusted police contact, who she viewed as a sort of father figure). The only POVs that actually interested me were Jason's, Amy's, and, to a certain extent, Bryn's.
It was lovely, seeing Jason and Amy become closer from both their perspectives. They fretted over each other - Jason worried about Amy taking care of herself, Amy worried about Jason getting hurt - and were curious about each other. Bryn's POV added a nice “outsider” perspective, as he compared what he was seeing in Jason and Amy's interactions to what he'd managed to accomplish with Amy up to that point. I'm still not quite sure why Amy let Jason so much further in that anyone else, even Bryn, but I enjoyed seeing it happen. Most of my bookmarked spots were lovely little moments between the two of them: Amy fussing over Jason and fixing him a cup of tea after he'd been badly hurt, Jason cooking Amy a real meal, the ongoing issue of Jason's password strength (who knew talk of passwords could be adorable?), and more.
I'm not sure if Claverton plans on turning Amy and Jason's relationship into a romance or not. It could go either way, I suppose. For instance, there was a moment when Jason's mother mentioned that Amy wasn't really his type:
“'Well, that explains why you were bothering so much with that Amy. She doesn't sound like your type of girl at all.'
For some reason, that statement stung him, though he had no idea why. True, Amy was nothing like the girls he chose to hang about with, but she wasn't bad and he thought maybe he would've liked to see her, even if he wasn't getting paid.” (146)Amy tended to be hyper-aware of just about everything about Jason, mostly because it surprised her that she felt safe around him. All of these things could be nudges towards a future romantic relationship, or they could just be indications of closeness. Either way, these two charmed me. Part of me hopes that Claverton never adds a sexual component to their relationship. I keep thinking of the X-Files, when Mulder and Scully officially became a couple and it felt all wrong.
All in all, this book's biggest draw for me was its characters and their relationships. I'm looking forward to learning more about Amy in the next book, and seeing how everyone's relationships progress. I'm reminded a little of how I approach J.D. Robb's In Death books – I read and reread them not for the mysteries, which I didn't always care for or remember very well, but for my favorite moments between the characters. Amy and Jason got lots of great moments in Binary Witness, and I can't wait to see more.