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When I was in my early twenties, my father’s parents disowned me. The reason was silly on the surface, I had taken my husband’s name and I no longer played my flute. Which, you have to understand that there are several generations of professional musicians in my family, so because I no longer playing after college was disappointing. I was devastated by their actions. Genealogy was very important to me and it was as if they had told me that I was no longer Irish. We are still estranged, 13 years later.
So when I received the request to review this book by the author, the idea of being disowned for just being you struck a chord with me. I especially was intrigued by the details about a culture I was not familiar. While this is a review for book two (Dirty Secret) of the series, by Rhys Ford, I remark on aspects from both novels. Keep in mind that this is book two of a series, so you should read book one prior than reading Dirty Secret.
This book picks up immediately after the end of Dirty Kiss. The protagonists are Cole Kenjiro McGinnis (former cop and currently a Private Investigator) and Kim Jae-Min (cousin to the suicide victim he investigates in book 1). Now a couple in the second book, their relationship remains closeted to Jae’s family and acquaintances. Cole takes an investigation job from Scarlett (singer friend) to find an old acquaintance. In the process, friends and family are endangered. Can Cole discover the long-buried secret before he looses everything?
Cole Kenjiro McGinnis:
To me, Cole represents the reader and in today’s world we are a melting pot of ethnicity; Cole’s father is Irish (Catholic) and his mother was Japanese. His mother died when he was so young that he does not remember her and his mother figure has always been his stepmother, Barbara. The story is in first-person, while it is not my favorite point-of-view, as Cole we see things through his eyes. In this way the author can explain the differences in cultures and events without burdening the reader with pointless exposition.
Cole’s partner, Ben when he was still a police officer, killed Cole’s lover, emotionally ravaged, Cole withdraws and sets up a private investigation business. It has been several years and he realizes he is lonely and lacks human contact; enter Jae. Cole’s best feature is his sense of humor, and his quirky comments. His discoveries made me laugh out loud:
I did what any sane man would do when a pixie-faced grandmother lined him up in her sights: I jumped.
Hitting cement is never pleasant, especially after an eight-foot drop. The top of the fence exploded, going the way of Mr. Elephant’s head. It was raining wood on my head, and off in the distance, amid the echo of the shotgun blast reverberating in my ears, I heard sirens approaching. Definitely time to get into my car and speed away.
Cole is really one of my favorite male leads I have read about in a long time. He is a combination of rugged independence, self-deprecating humor, and loving partner. While he is not perfect, we get to see a man who struggles to regain his emotional balance after such a deep trauma of his partner’s betrayal and lover’s death.
Jae-Min is a beautifully complex human. He is trapped in a life where most men live closeted. Cole sees Jae-Min as the following:
As much as he hated being what and who he was, I trusted at least one of the things hidden in my tough guttersnipe lover… the young man who saw the world as an oddly beautiful creation only he could capture on film. He saw love amid the weeds and broken cement. He saw the beauty in the aging skin of a man who lived his life as a woman. Even if he couldn’t see happiness for himself, he exposed it for others.
It is so difficult at first to identify with Jae-Min’s character. For me, ultimatums make me say “screw-you”, and the idea of pretending to be something that I am not just to keep my family who would disown me anyways just seems wrong. But after awhile of reading the book, I realized that we all can identify with Jae. Consider your life, what aspects of your life do you keep separate? Do you talk about the erotica you read to your boss or your mother/father? Do you have different type of friends who you keep separate because they wold not get along? There are many things in life that we end up compromising to keep a balance.
While these are two separate novels, I think we can find an overarching theme. If I had to take a theme from these two books, it would have to be that life is full of sacrifices. In many ways these two characters share the same story, merely from difference perspectives. Both men have lived in a world of intolerance. For Jae, he struggles to remain closeted in his family’s world because he knows he will loose them, which is illustrated thoroughly in other examples within the series. For Cole, he has lost his father and stepmother because their Irish Catholic beliefs say he is an abomination. Cole, because of the American “F-you” attitude made the sacrifice to remain out, while Jae still remains closeted.
Now, I go with Cole’s “F-you” philosophy, but we should be sensitive to others who might not have that luxury. Yet Ford does not just point a pretty picture of “coming out” where everyone cheers and claps the character’s bravery. No, she paints a picture realistically, painfully, and yes, bloodily. Sometimes the answer is not just black and white. I think in the end, both Jae and Cole will be “out”, but this honesty of self will cost.
The humor. What makes a good romance or a good drama is the moments of levity. Ford does such an excellent job of sprinkling humor into intense scenes. Take for example:
His squirming turned to near seizures, and he swung his arms, smacking me across the cheek. Of course it was the hand with the brick. I saw stars and rolled over. If Rocket got shot at, maybe he could deflect it with his brick, like Wonder Woman.
There are also other times where Ford sprinkles references to other classics like The Princess Bride, it makes the characters so much more relatable.
The writing. I read a lot of books, easily 7 books a week. So with the high volume, I read a lot of “meh” books, within these books I find no inspiration or thought-provoking discussion. But then there are times like these, when I laugh out loud with humor and highlight a quote because it moves me. When these moments hit me, it is like gold. Ford made me consider my life and how lucky I am. In my life I can walk down the street holding my husband’s hand. I can tell my mother how much I love my husband. Some people can’t. So, to me, this book is more than just a sexy romance book. This book is about politics, religion, love, and culture and the costs associated.
What could be better?
I really want to respond to some complaints other reviewers have had toward this book. This part might be a little ranty. Let’s get the qualifiers out first: not everyone likes the same things, and that’s ok! It reminds me of one of the BDSM slogan: “your kink is not my kink, but that’s ok!” So, what bothers me are the complaints regarding the confusing Korean names. Now, the author actually answered this complaint within the novel. Korean families tend to name their offspring’s similarly to help identify them to the house. From the novel:
“Yeah, most families use a generation name, so everyone in your… group…” Jae made a face at the word he chose. “They’d all have the same first sound. Not everyone does it, but almost all do, especially if the family’s old.”
So this brings me to the arrogance of the reader who complains about the accuracy and depth of research the author took. Should the author have named all of the Korean characters “Tim Smith” and “Bob Jones” so that the reader would not have to think? Get real!
To sum up, I actually enjoyed the immersion into the Korean culture and felt that I learned something. In fact, I found nothing lacking within either of these novels. I usually hate first person, but in this case it worked because of the culture clash.
In simplest terms, this book is a sexy male/male suspense romance novel. But if the reader is willing to listen, it also tells the story of what happens when you love honestly and in the light. We make sacrifices every day. What will you sacrifice to be with your soul mate? This was a brilliantly written novel and I look forward to reading much more by Rhys Ford as we watch her writing grow and mature.