Title: Art Of Death
Author: Bob Appavu
Publisher: DSP Publication
Published: 3 September 2019
Cover Design: Bob Appavu
Length: 93,000 words
Keywords : urban fantasy, paranormal, thriller, mystery, fantasy, not a romance, but has a strong romantic subplot – primary pairing is Riley/Westwood, gay, undead (similar to: vampires, zombies), superhuman, murder mystery, serial killer, amateur sleuth, art school, nude model, mental illness
Authors Notes:This title was originally published under an alternate pen name. This second edition has been re-edited and significantly updated.
Warnings: violence, domestic violence, graphic sexual content
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A young artist’s life changes forever when he stumbles upon the secret society of the undead… and those who defend humanity from the depravity of their brethren. Lychgate protects the innocent from the monsters stalking the shadows, and Riley and his undead lover, Westwood, must fight together or lose each other.
Starving artist Riley Burke refuses to be dependent on his rich older boyfriend—hence his second job as a nude model at the local art school. When the famous artist Coliaro requests him for a private modeling session, he jumps at the chance to earn some real cash.
But then Westwood, a mysterious stranger, warns him to steer clear—it’s said Coliaro is undead. That his worshippers perform rituals to fill him with life energy. That every time he paints a male nude, the painting transforms to depict a gruesome murder. And that shortly after, a young man turns up dead.
Riley dismisses the rumors—until they start to play out before his eyes. When he becomes a target, Westwood comes to his aid. But Westwood is secretive and dangerous himself… which just makes him more attractive to Riley. Riley is in over his head, and even his tenuous alliance with Westwood might not save him.
The concept of this book gives a new twist on the Undead / Vampire-ish characters. The undead in this story are very normal to the general public, they don’t drink blood, have fangs etc. But they do have super strength and speed on their side. And there are ways they feed of humans, via rituals carried out by their followers.
Riley is oblivious to all the above, a newly graduated artist that has fallen on hard times so also does nude modeling at his former art school. When his former professor tells him about a request from a renowned artist Coliaro, for Riley to pose for him. Riley jumps at the idea.
Riley finds out that all of Coliaro paintings of nude men, somehow transforms into the bodies having their hearts and hands removed. And then the heart and hands turn up, whilst the rest of the bodies are never found.
Riley is also warned by a mysterious man to stay clear of Coliaro, even Riley’s boyfriend tries to steer him clear of Coliaro.
What follows is a intense chain of events, as reality soon starts to unravel, after a promising student is murdered at the art school.
And Porters death is the catalyst that really throws Riley deeper into the world of undead when he comes face to face with Porter.
Westwood the stranger mentioned above has tried to stop Riley getting involved with Coliaro.
But Riley is very inquisitive and seems to have a thing for dangerous men.
Stakes get higher as Riley gets closer to the truth. He knows he has to find the person who is doing the killing as a tribute to Coliaro .
But who can he trust? Certainly not Coliaro, Westwood seems almost as dangerous as Coliaro. He is hiding his investigation from his boyfriend Nick, and their relationship is on the verge of ending.
All Riley knows is he has to stop the killings, and awkward partnership of sorts with Westwood seems to be the way forward.
I thought the story was well written and paced, the threat of danger was constantly there and I have to say I did not realise who the killer was before it was revealed, which is unusual for me, I usually guess pretty early on.
I loved Riley’s stubborn determination and inquisitive mind, I felt for his struggling career. I really enjoyed Porters character a fun-loving young man, I would love to learn more about porter. The attraction between Westwood and Riley is so intense, but there always seems to be something stopping them making a move.
Upon reaching Nick’s house, Riley turned off his headlights, eased into the driveway, and parked outside the garage. He’d been racked with guilt throughout the drive, unable to think about anything but the future murder he’d failed to prevent. He tried to tell himself that maybe he’d at least saved Levi from a trip to Coliaro’s bedroom, but it was no consolation.
He wasn’t doing any good for anyone. When had he ever done good for anyone besides himself?
You’re wallowing, he told himself as he sat, stalling, with his hands on the wheel. He gave his head a brisk shake to break the string of invasive thoughts.
But shutting down his thoughts didn’t mean he’d ceased to believe them. As he climbed out of his car, he felt crushed by the weight of the guilt he couldn’t ignore.
He’d leave his car in the driveway. He didn’t want to wake Nick with the squealing of the garage door. After sliding out of the car, he gently pushed the driver’s side door shut and turned toward the house.
Westwood stood at the hood of the Corolla, his face hidden in shadow. Riley cried out and stumbled back against the side of the car. “Shit, Westwood!”
Westwood didn’t speak. Riley waited for his heartbeat to return to a normal pace, and Westwood continued to stand without offering any explanation.
“What are you doing here?” Riley asked at last, his voice hushed. “My boyfriend is inside.”
Westwood hesitated. Then, softly, he whispered, “I had to make sure.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Coliaro told me he was going to… do things to you. Did he?”
“He didn’t do anything.” Riley crossed his arms over his chest. “Why do you care? After our phone conversation, I was under the impression you were pissed at me.”
“I am. You were an idiot going after Coliaro like that. But that doesn’t mean I want you maimed or tortured. I’ve known Coliaro for a long time, and he doesn’t make empty threats.”
Riley looked past Westwood toward the house. The curtains were drawn over all the windows, and he couldn’t tell if Nick had waited up for him. “Listen, I just want to go to sleep.”
Westwood reached out without warning, tilting Riley’s chin back. His eyes appeared oddly reflective in the dark as he examined Riley’s neck. His gaze traveled down, pausing on Riley’s wrists. Riley pulled back, bracing himself against his car. “It’s only a couple rope burns on my wrists and a few scratches from falling into the bushes. No big deal.”
Riley had a feeling he would have been more convincing if his voice hadn’t cracked on the last few words. Westwood narrowed his eyes, and Riley felt himself begin to tremble. He’d been so trapped in his guilt that he hadn’t realized how shaken he was. Now, in front of Westwood, was not the time he’d wanted to make that discovery. Swiftly he turned away, cursing under his breath as his tremors intensified.
He could feel Westwood’s gaze on him, scrutinizing him. “I’m tired,” Riley told him, his voice choked. “That’s all.”
A warm hand on his back snapped him into awareness. His muscles went rigid and he turned, meeting Westwood’s eyes. Westwood ran his hand slowly up and down Riley’s spine, easing his tremors. Riley shuddered, alarmed at the potency of Westwood’s touch and dismayed by how badly he wanted more.
He reveled in the warmth of Westwood’s soft caress, closing his eyes and breathing in deep. This was exactly what he needed—a calm, reassuring hand.
Westwood could barely stand to keep his hand on Riley. Riley’s tormented energy crackled under his fingers like static electricity, shooting through his veins and jolting him to his core.
Riley had fooled him. He’d stepped out of his car wearing a shell so stoic and emotionless he could have passed for undead. But the moment Westwood had touched him, his ruse collapsed. Riley had been concealing a hurricane of emotion just below the surface, and with a single touch, it flooded the dams.
Riley’s emotion poured into Westwood. It filled his heart, shooting upward and tightening his throat, sparking wetness behind his eyes. He blinked, and a tear fell from his eye. Not his own tear—the tear Riley refused to shed.
Shit, this was painful. He couldn’t bear it. But if he let go….
If he let go, then Riley would have to face the hurricane alone again. Right now, Westwood’s touch seemed to be the only thing calming the storm. He couldn’t withdraw.
Bracing himself, he blinked out another of Riley’s tears and tightened his grip.
Riley didn’t want Westwood to let go—ever. Westwood’s touch calmed his heart in a way he hadn’t felt in years.
Why? How? This was Westwood, the same man who barely had a grasp on empathy or emotion. Yet he was somehow capable of freeing Riley from the prison of his stress and panic. Riley wanted to say something to him, but he had no idea what to say.
After a long, shaky pause, he opened his mouth to speak, and Westwood immediately withdrew, as if assuming Riley was about to protest. Westwood took a couple of steps back, giving Riley space, and Riley almost groaned with disappointment. More than anything, he wanted that hand on him again. He wanted that surprisingly gentle touch.
Westwood lingered. If Riley didn’t know better, he would have thought Westwood didn’t want to leave him alone. When Westwood finally spoke, it seemed to take him considerable effort. “I only came to make sure you made it home alive,” he said gruffly. “Go inside and sleep.”
Riley considered calling back to him, asking him to stay awhile. But by the time he managed to find his voice, Westwood had already disappeared into the shadows.
Reading is an exercise in empathy. We feel through our characters, and characters often teach us new ways to feel. This is especially true of diverse fiction. Fiction has a way of tearing down barriers and reminding us that surface-level differences aren’t a roadblock to empathy.
I’ve been a fan of mysteries and thrillers since my tween days. But with each passing year, I find myself wishing harder that the mysteries and thrillers I read could be more human. More empathetic.
And more gay, of course.
My new novel Art of Death is a dichotomy. It’s a fast-paced m/m supernatural murder mystery, rife with suspense and dark, creepy moments. It’s gritty, sometimes violent, and sexually charged.
But it’s also a story about the emotional link between two men: one who feels too deeply and one who barely feels at all.
Riley Burke is a down-on-his-luck art school graduate who returns to his alma mater as a nude model when he can’t find work in his field. He’s invited to pose for the world-renowned artist Coliaro, but there’s just one problem. Every time Coliaro paints a male nude, someone is killed.
Riley takes the job anyway—of course he does—and when things go downhill, he finds himself having to turn to Westwood, the shady-but-hot undead investigator, for help.
Riley has more on his mind than just fighting the undead and stopping a serial killer. He struggles with debilitating seasonal depression, made worse by his lingering grief and guilt over the suicide of his brother when they were teenagers. Most days are a struggle for him, but he’d rather flounder alone than let anyone know he’s suffering. His emotion runs too strong for him to handle.
Westwood, on the other hand, lost his ability to feel human emotion the first time he revived from death. He can only feel things like love, grief, and regret vicariously through humans—by breaching the barriers of their physical body. Emotional currents run through human blood, tears, breath, and sex—and they’re addictive to an undead like Westwood who can’t feel these things on his own.
Emotion is the thread that connects humans to the undead. Throughout the three books in the series, Riley learns to share the emotions that he finds so shameful and painful, and Westwood learns to feel human emotion in a way he never thought he could.
Here’s an exclusive excerpt from Art of Death, my empathetic murder mystery.
Westwood could have watched Riley’s hypnotic breaths all day. His human body was a contradiction—strong enough to take Westwood’s pounding but weak enough to be snuffed out with one wrong move. Westwood had woken three times throughout the night just to make sure Riley was still breathing in the wake of their unbridled passion.
Now barely past dawn, he watched Riley take another breath. Another, and another, and then an odd, stuttering pause before the next breath came. In that split second before Riley’s breath finally emerged, Westwood’s chest filled with an unbearable tangle of indecipherable emotion.
Why, after so many years, was he still unable to name the fleeting feelings that sometimes came to him? Could he try to put words to them?
It wasn’t quite fear. He knew fear; he’d felt it countless times through other humans’ bodies. This was a strange mix of fear and agitation. It heated his palms and ears. It tingled in the soles of his feet.
He shook his head, giving up. The word didn’t matter. All he knew was that the thought of anything breaking Riley’s human body bothered him. Humans were so damn fragile, and the more time he spent with this one, the more he ached with the urge to shield Riley from anything that might harm him.
But could he shield Riley from his own erratic strength? Was he, in fact, the one most likely to break Riley?
He ran a tentative hand over Riley’s neck, exploring tendons and sinews that felt as delicate as a butterfly’s wings. He could barely trust himself to touch them, but the pulsing of Riley’s blood was too compelling for him to withdraw. Riley’s energy echoed through his fingertips, warming his frigid veins on its way to his heart. His tangle of agitation slowly loosened, unraveling and settling like down feathers drifting to the ground.
This was another feeling he’d never experienced. It was different—quiet and steady. He liked it. He still couldn’t name it, but he took in a deep breath and savored it while it lasted.
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Bob Appavu is an author, illustrator, and creator of the long-running LGBTQ+ webcomic Demon of the Underground. Born and raised in a conservative Chicago suburb to South Indian parents, Bob turned to reading at an early age to find the inclusive, illuminating worlds that couldn’t always be accessed in real life. Bob recalls spending most of the 90s at the local bookstore feigning interest in the poetry anthologies that were conveniently shelved next to the LGBT fiction.
As a queer writer who enjoys challenging conventions and pushes creative boundaries, Bob has a passion for crafting the types of stories she can’t readily find on the shelf and the types of characters who are often denied the spotlight. Bob is a lover of suspense, speculative fiction, and deep world building, but her greatest joy is portraying the full scope of her queer characters’ humanity.
Bob is an incurable workaholic whose preferred fuel is tea. When not at work, she enjoys caring for rescued ferrets.