reviews: romance and crime
Posted April 7, 2009on:
I’ve been too busy to get a recap up, but I figured we could throw some other stuff at the blog. I read a fair amount of romance anyway, and as that seems to be my area of expertise for this blog, I’ll review as many of them as possible. Might as well put my English lit degree to good use, eh?
I read 3 m/m romance novellas over the weekend, and all three of them involve at least one cop. This is, in general, a genre I’m fairly new to, but there seem to be a lot of mystery/crime/romantic suspense novels out there starring gay protagonists. Two of the ones I read over the weekend were good and interesting and genre-bending. The third was… less so.
1. Dark Horse by Josh Lanyon. I’ll tell you up front that I’m an unabashed Josh Lanyon fan. The Adrien English series is, I think, an excellent example of the gay mystery/crime genre. Dark Horse is a novella that, interestingly, seems to pick up after the typical romance would. Sean is an actor who was, until a week ago, being stalked by a crazy man who became increasingly threatening. Dan is an LAPD lieutenant who was assigned to keep Sean safe. Romance ensued. The action starts after the case is solved, when Sean gets another letter from his allegedly dead stalker.
It’s an interesting story in that it picks up after Sean and Dan have already become a couple, and they now have to navigate a relationship while dealing with stressors like the person who is still stalking and threatening Sean and Sean’s history of mental illness. The twist ending is a little predictable, but it still plays out in a satisfying way.
2. White Knight by Josh Lanyon. This is a sequel to Dark Horse. It picks up 6 months after the events of the previous book. Sean and Dan broke up when Sean left for Wales to make a movie without talking to Dan about it first. Only Sean fell down some stairs and hurt his head, and now he can’t remember much of what’s happened over the last few weeks. He slowly reconstructs it, starting with the circumstances that brought Sean and Dan together to begin with, on through the problems they were having before he left for Wales, and things that have happened since. There’s a threat to Sean in this novel, too, but it seems almost inconsequential, just a device to move the plot forward, because it’s really more about Sean and Dan working out their problems in order to move forward with a stronger relationship. Again, I like this novella because it’s more about what happens after the Happily Ever After, and it’s about two characters that clearly love each other but who have serious problems to work through. So it’s realistic, in other words. The same can’t be said for…
3. A Matter of Necessity by T.D. McKinney. This one was recommended by Amazon based on my recent buying patterns, I guess. It has an interesting premise: 2 FBI agents go undercover as a gay couple and then kind of wind up falling for each other. Once the mission ends, they have to decide if they want to carry on with the relationship.
But here’s where our problems begin. The bad guy in this novel is a terrorist who happens to be gay in a sort of militant way, in that he doesn’t trust straight people at all. Hence the necessity of going undercover as a gay couple. Only our heroes (Shawn who is bi and Alex who is straight until this mission) have to prove they’re gay, which includes performing sex acts in public. That wind up caught on tape. Which is unbelievable enough. Then there’s the fact that Alex was ostensibly straight before Shawn confessed that he’d had a thing for Alex for years. Alex kind of falls into what I understand is a particularly odious fanfic convention: the straight guy who is only gay for one man. Still, I give McKinney some credit, because Alex is probably the best drawn character in the novel, and he has some genuine doubts about going forward with a relationship with Shawn.
But the other thing that got me began with the trial. The terrorist’s lawyer sets up the FBI sting to be a hate crime, that the terrorist was targeted because he was gay (not because he was a gun runner and a terrorist). So the lawyer asks Alex and Shawn about their sexual orientation on the stand, and in order for it not to appear as a hate crime or a particular vendetta, they each testify that they had a private affair in addition to the public one they had during the sting. This seems unlikely enough. (I mean, is that even relevant at trial? No way the prosecution would let that fly.) But then, more to the point, everyone on their FBI team is COMPLETELY SUPPORTIVE.
Which is nice, I guess, but bothersome, too, because one of the things I like about m/m romance is that it has that extra layer of conflict and complication, but there seems to be a tendency for m/m writers to write these romances where everything is happy sunshine all the time. They have no internal conflict, their friends are all totally supportive, they live happily ever after. And there’s a bit of that going on here, too. Even Shawn’s homophobic BFF comes around and ultimately defends them when they start getting negative press.
So it strains credibility, but the writing is competent, so I still got some warm fuzzies when things played out happily ever after. Although then Shawn and Alex decide to run off to Boston to get married like it’s the gay Vegas (is that possible?) even though even I know it doesn’t work that way. (Isn’t there a law on the books in Massachusetts that says that gay marriages performed there aren’t legal if the people getting married live in states where gay marriage isn’t recognized, or something like that?) So I had a lot of moments, while reading this book, where I just sat there and thought, “Yeah, that would never happen,” which was distracting.