Other Reviewers: Goodreads
The novel, Sinner’s Gin, by Rhys Ford was supplied for review by the author. While it should be obvious to say, this is a honest review and I was not influenced by any action of the author.
This is the third book of Ford’s I have read. My review of her other series (Dirty) can be found here. That series is about an Irish decent ex-cop (Cole) and a Korean photographer (Jae). In some ways, those personal characteristics are very similar our main characters in Sinner’s Gin, which made me a little nervous. However, I am pleased to say that while there might be superficial similarities between the characters, the tone between the series is completely different.
Miki St. John is the only surviving member of a band after a horrific car accident. Now recovering, he hides from life and the world. Enter Kane Morgan, a cop who is irritated by Miki’s “dog” and finds a body in Miki’s garage. Now the mystery is who did it, was it Miki or is someone trying to frame him? Why does Kane find Miki so enchanting and can Miki learn to trust Kane?
Miki St. John:
To describe Miki and what in his life shaped him to be what he is today, would spoil a great deal of the mystery of the storyline. So forgive me if this portion is not as in-depth as normal. There are several things about Miki that I find fascinating and compelling. Let me be frank, I am a fairly boring Anglo-Saxon based heterosexual female who has lived in the rural south for most of her life. The bulk of information that I receive of other cultures comes from movies and novels, which may or may not be accurate. Yet, any time I can expand my education and perspective I try to do so. Ford’s work in the Dirty series is an excellent example of how enlightening it can be to read books that focus on another culture.
Miki is someone who grew up as an orphan and struggled in many ways to survive. The band became his new family and saved his life. Damien, his co-writer in their music becomes his best friend and the loss of him has left him devastated and inconsolable. He finally found a new family in his band and from the explosive beginning of the novel we see this ripped violently from him.
The woman didn’t understand how her voice reminded him of the long weeks he spent on the road, complaining about the bad food, weather, and their bus drivers’ aversion to bathing. She shadowed them through the ups and downs, either soothing their nerves or pushing them past their fears. The others griped constantly as they dragged themselves and their equipment from city to city, but Miki had never felt more alive. Living in each others’ pockets strained their tempers at times, but they became tighter as a whole. He agonized over the loss of Damien’s bossiness or Johnny’s cocky, swaggering boasts of his hookups from the night before. Miki longed for a few more minutes of Dave’s quiet faith as he murmured thanks to some god before they hit the stage.
Hearing Edie made him miss them all the more, and his heart couldn’t take any more breaks in its already fragile shell.
We see this man from the beginning of the novel, broken in many ways, his blank countenance merely a pretense that quickly cracks under the emotional strain. Enter the appearance of the dead body in his garage and this charming and strong police detective named Kane Morgan.
We find in Miki a person who is not deeply embedded in any culture, in fact, he has no cultural ties. This to me, is an example of how Ford takes something that at first we think is very similar from the other series and twists a character into something unique. Miki is someone who has re-invented his entire persona and as the book progresses we steadily realize that his unemotional facade is just that, a facade.
I think that Ford brilliantly painted a picture of someone with a horrific background. The picture often is one so incomprehensibly painful, that I was sickened for Miki. But what was so beautiful about the novel was the strength that Miki had and the courage that he demonstrated. Ford also manages to make this character realistic and not a typical “victim” in a romance. Yes, these horrible things make an impact on Miki, but it’s not as if he swoons around storyline letting Kane pick up all of the pieces. Ford makes a character that bent but not broken, which I will address when I get to the theme.
We see in Kane someone with whom we can all identify. He is an “every person” type of character: he works hard, he loves his family, and he tries to do the right thing both in his job as a police officer and his personal life. I loved the aspect of the Irish family, the use of accents was charming and allowed me to fall deeper into the story. I love how Kane’s father describes him to Miki:
“He’s got a good heart. My temper, though, so I apologize to ye for that, but he’ll never do more than raise his voice at ye. And then probably feel bad about that afterwards. If I’ve taught them one thing, it’s that they’re strong, stronger than most. They’re got to take care with that. Ye’ll never have to worry about him taking a hand to ye.”
What I like about Kane is how he approaches loving and supporting Miki as the book develops. He learns how to support and comfort Miki, but not try to fix him or rearrange his life. As their relationship develops, Kane discovers methods to understand Miki’s past and find ways of reaching Miki. Kane’s character development comes through in how he adjusts to this new love and learning how to be the man that Miki needs. He has never found anyone in the past that made him want to care this much and pull them so deeply into his life.
For me, I found two themes: one from my perspective and another I think Ford intended.
As I stated with Miki’s portion of this review, he is bent and not broken. This is a truth about Miki as well as something in life. We can be bent the fuck up, so much so that we are not in the original image. But from this destruction we can be reformed and made anew; we are changed, perhaps scarred, but we can still live a full life. Sometimes we can do these things on our own and sometimes we need support to do this. In Sinner’s Gin, Miki gains this support through Kane and his family to build a new future. This can be illustrated in an early quote between Miki and Kane:
They became the eye in the center of a wicked storm. Kane rested his chin on Miki’s shoulder and simply listened to the man breathe, stroking his fingertips up and down Miki’s spine. The man dug his hands into Kane’s shirt, tightly fisting the fabric as if afraid to let go … afraid he’d fall into something he couldn’t crawl out of if he didn’t have Kane to hold on to.
Just because you are not physically or emotionally perfect does not mean love is illusive. It is possible to find love and find that person that completes you. Yes, perhaps it is hokey, but still true!
But I also found the theme that I think Ford meant:
“See, I get it now. For a long time, I couldn’t figure out how my dad and mom stayed together. They’re too different. They like different things. Hell, they can’t even agree on what kind of Christmas tree to get, so it never made sense that they were…inseparable.”
“And now you do? Because of St. John?”
“Yeah, I do,” he replied softly. “People like my mom and Miki are like kites. They need the sky. They need the wind. Me and my dad? We’re the people holding the string. We’re their anchors to the earth. Miki and I can feel each other through the connection.”
“Huh, how does that work out? You’re… wait, you’re not the string. You’re holding the string.”
“Yeah, dude. I’m holding the string.” Kane laughed at Ke’s confused look. “I can feel the power of the wind catching Miki, lifting him up and dropping him down. He can feel the world beneath me, and he knows… he trusts me not to let go… not to let him drift off into the sky. And when he gets too tired of flying, he knows that I’ll reel him in and take care of him. Just like my dad does with my mom.”
One of my personally favor themes of yin / yang, that in every successful couple is a balance of strengths and weakness. A perfect couple is not one that are exactly alike, but two people who are complementary. Their own strengths and weakness are reciprocal and that is why Miki and Kane just work.
One thing that I loved about this book was the humor. This is a pretty dark book in many parts, and Ford did an excellent job of splicing humor into it. Granted, sometimes the humor was pretty dark:
“Okay, tell you what.” Kane reached for the piece of paper Miki still had clenched in his fist. “I’m going to leave them here and go grab what’s on your list. You go inside and wait.”
“And do what?” Miki pursed his lips. “I feel like I’m in some damned slasher flick, man.
I’m sure as fuck not going into the shower. I’ve seen that movie. It did not end well for that chick.”
Another aspect that I loved about this book is the ensemble cast. Ford beautifully builds the world of Sinner’s Gin with Kane’s family and friends and these secondary characters help to create an intriguing environment. The imagery is so vivid I often feel like I am watching a movie. The conversations with Kane’s father Donal was hilarious and colorful, I could visualize the Irish clans jovially arguing with each other.
What could be better?
When I give a book a four or five-star review, it is usually difficult to really find something to improve the novel. In this case, the only thing that really bothered me was the cover. Not really the composition, but the tone. The book, while containing a HEA has a very dark background and some of the events are quite graphic and intense. Yet, the cover does not illustrate any of this darkness. Not sure what I would really do to change it, and I was certainly surprised by the darkness inside the pages so it did add to the intensity of the scenes.
When I look for a book, I hope to find something that compels me to reflect on something other than my world. Sometimes, that might be a mystery story, a foreign culture, or a faraway planet. Through all of these themes I want to discover something about myself. What I found in Sinner’s Gin is a story about a man who is trying to rebuild his life again after a tragic car accident and finds love along the way. We discover that despite a shattering background you can start over and love can find you if you have the courage to try.
I thoroughly loved this book and I am giddy with excitement about the next book. I can say with quite certainly that Rhys Ford continues to be an auto-buy author and I look forward to reading her next book.