Review: The Mysterious Stranger by Ainslie Paton


Title: The Mysterious Stranger
Author: Ainslie Paton
Genre: Contemporary romance, Doomsday cult, Con artists
Release Date: 27 Aug 2019

Author's links:

My rating: 5 Stars


For Rory Archer, going deep under cover with her best friend Zeke Sherwood to bust a doomsday cult was a way of making up for her unprofessional behavior after a relationship breakup with her boss, Zeke's older brother.

All she had to do was act her part, find the evidence they needed to tear down the cult and help the people who'd been gaslit into joining to start new lives.

It was a far cry from the usual work she did, conning arrogant mega-rich men out of ill-gotten money to spend on deserving causes. And with Zeke by her side, it would be a blast.

For Zeke Sherwood, busting the cult was the easy part, even if it meant no way to feed his addiction to Frappuccinos, but surviving months, partnering the woman he'd been in love with forever would be the toughest job he'd ever signed on for. He and Rory had never been anything more than sidekicks and Zeke had given up thinking they ever would be.

But inside the cult, the truth is stranger than fiction, drawing them closer until uncertainty strips away old patterns of behavior and longing and lust bloom, bringing with them the danger of discovery and the fear that none of the new love they feel for each other is real.


This is the final book in a trilogy about a family (actually, there are more than one family involved) of con artists. I loved the previous two books but this one is by far the best for me. It blew my mind,  it's so unlike any romance I have read before.

There is an intense suspense plot, the hero and heroine go undercover into a doomsday cult in order to dismantle it. We get to see in detail the brutal abuse both psychological and physical the leader used to try to break them (and everyone else in that cult) - him through heavy labour and physical discomfort, her - through singling her out and ostracizing her. The misogyny, the manipulation and gaslighting in the cult was difficult to read at times. It was challenged by the hero and the heroine at every step, still it hit me right in the heart pretty strongly. Seeing how Zeke and Rory fought and resisted the manipulations of the cult was fascinating. I loved the strength both of them showed. And it brought them together, made them admit their attraction and ultimately act on it.

I loved the complexity and layers of the romantic relationship. Zeke's been in love with Rory forever, but she has always seen him as her best friend though she was vaguely aware of his feelings for her and stubbornly ignored them.

They way they cared for each other is what completely undid me - not the lust and physical attraction (we never get a detail physical description of them, other than both being fit and active in sports) but the care, the desire to make the other feel safe and comfortable, the constant worry of how the other one is doing when they were separated.

Zeke is a wonderful character, a master con artist who has a soft side and I loved that the author showed it to us. He needed his frappucinos and a comfy bed and was not ashamed to admit it. I liked Rory a lot too. On top of everything she is a romance reader and it showed in little details throughout the whole story.

They both were certain of their feeling but had doubts about the feelings of the other. They got together while isolated from the outside world and put under enormous pressure and this affected the very foundation of their relationship. There is a lot of exploration of self-doubt and confidence and sabotaging oneself because things seem to good to be true.

The references to Nalini Singh’s PNR series totally killed me, I didn’t catch the first one but I was right there for the next one and recognizing them made me giddy, they fitted so well into the story.

I loved some of the secondary characters as well. I read Candance as on the ace spectrum and I was scared she will be forced into a relationship/sex. The way Rory and Zeke treated her, it melted my heart.

The story also gives a poignant commentary on women’s rights and bodily autonomy, without sounding preachy. 

There was a major plot twist towards the end re the romantic relationship, I didn't expect it but it made sense seeing both Zeke and Rory voice their fears and hopes and dreams. The fine line between wishful thinking and bad timing, learning to trust yourself and the person you love/who loves you.

Overall, it's a remarkable romance and I highly recommend it.

CWs: attempted murder with drugs, physical violence, misogyny, abuse, gaslighting, manipulation

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