Review: Dirty Deeds — by Rhys Ford

dirty_deeds_coverOther Reviewers: Goodreads

I have been a fan of Rhys Ford’s writing since the first book I read of hers.  So, any time I get to review a book by Ford, I jump at the chance.  As always, my reviews are honest; I promise I have kept the fan girl deep inside for this review.

Note:  This is Book 4 in the Cole McGinnis Mystery Series, so if you have not read the previous ones — read them first!  My other reviews can be found here and here.  While, I think you could enjoy this book, you will miss a lot of the back story.

Basic Plot:

Book 4 starts after the startling ending of book 3.  Jae was shot, but recovered, his shooter, Sheila is still in the wind.  Cole tries to keep it together, but his fear for Jae’s safety gets to him.  Now, new danger surrounds them and Cole must fight his urges to become a white knight.  In the meantime, Cole starts a relationship with his half-brother Ichi and Jae learns how to live as a gay man.  Can their relationship survive all of this danger and drama?  Can Cole finally let his past go and embrace his present and future?

Cole McGinnis:

What can you say about Cole?  To me, he is the perfect man, that mixture of emotionally clueless, heartfelt enthusiasm for doing the right thing, and passionate lover.  Life has fucked him over and while he was down, he got his life back in order and is back to living again — due to his love and relationship with Jae.  Cole is NOT perfect, he makes mistakes like everyone else, but I like his heart.

“Ain’t that the fucking truth.”  I patted the bush.  It probably wouldn’t survive this assault, but I had high hopes.  If it made it through its shit, so could I.  Or at least that’s what I was telling myself.  “Good talk.  Thanks for having my back, man.”

His sense of humor in troubled times is also something I love and can relate.  Gallows humor always makes me laugh.  There is a lot about his former live with Rick and as a cop that we do not know.  This book goes a bit deeper into that back story and I greedily read as much as I could about it.  Half-way through the book I think we get a perfect quote about who Cole is:

“That’s because you’re a good man.  Sometimes a stupid one who runs into shootouts with a gun, but your heart is in the right place.”

And I think this spirit is what Jae and I are attracted to and in love with Cole.

Kim Jae-Min:

In the past, I had mixed feelings about Jae.  I loved him because I could relate to his identity struggles and he was a very sympathetic character.  You really were supporting his success.  But Jae always held something back from us, certainly from Cole.  Was he really invested into the relationship?  Should we care enough about the relationship if he did not?  Jae is different and we must understand that his mind works differently:

“Cole-ah, some days you hurt me simply by breathing.”  His words were quick, short jabs, but they found their mark, leaving me bleeding out through a thousand shallow cuts.  “And then there are days when I love you so much I don’t mind the pain.”

But what we came to understand was that he was not just struggling with his sexuality, but with his culture and very identity.  For him, to fully commit to Cole was not just a “gay-straight” thing, but most likely to be shunned by his entire family.  And for his Korean background that was unthinkable.

Book 4, begins with most of that Cole and Jae tension gone.  Jae is with Cole, and they love each other, Jae has made that commitment.  I was relieved in that, this time when our emotional tension began we did not have to deal with that angst drama.

Theme Summary:

My previous discussion on themes can be found here and here.  But I found this book’s theme and it reinforced my previous determinations:

You are hot, virile, and you are mine.  The man in that photo is sexy.  I love his mouth and his face and those hands.  God, you have no idea what people think about you, what you can do with me with those hands.  You are beautiful, even with the scars — or maybe because of them.  They are larger in your mind than they are on your skin. I touch those spots and my fingers slide over them because they are slick.  I kiss you there and you shiver.  And you cry out more when I bite them.”

I see several meanings from these words.  The simplest is that our past should not define who we should be, but they do influence our reactions.  We must learn to leave the past behind and embrace the present.  But also look at that last sentence.  Jae touches the physical evidence of his past pain and Cole cries “out more when I bit them.”  It is more meaningful when we can find someone who accepts you, your past pain, your faults, all of you.  There is no  hiding anything here, they love each other, scars inside and out.

Strong Points:

God, I love the humor.  I love the both the dirty and dark:

“How the hell do you listen to something you can’t even understand?  It’s all in Korean.  You don’t even peak Korean, and I don’t think you can say swallowing Jae’s cock makes you fluent.  If that were the case, I’d speak all kinds of shit.”

“It’s music.  And I can pick stuff up out of it.  Now shut up.  Here comes the guy.”

And while this quote is made to make us laugh, it is really an insight into Cole and Jae’s relationship.  Cole doesn’t need to understand Korean to understand and support Jae, he learns more and more about Jae jut by being near him and he loves and supports him even when he does not fully understand his motivation.

As always, I love the immersion into the culture: Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese this time.  I love learning and this series does a good job of getting me into the culture without overwhelming me with foreign words and ideas.

Finally, I love the action and the trademark hook that Ford gives us in the opening of the book.  It always pulls me in with a rush of adrenaline.

What could be better?

There is nothing really that I would change about this book.  I really, really want to know the back story of why Ben did was he did to Rick and Cole.  Ford has been stringing us alone with this back story, taunting us!  I so look forward to finding out what the heck was Ben’s motivation.  I am not sure that we ever will, but it drives me bonkers.

It also drives me crazy how she does cliffhangers!  Oh the woman!  But to be fair, they are really well written cliffhangers.

Conclusions:

This is probably one of my favorite series in male/male romances.  While the romance aspect runs throughout the series, what we really get to see is well written mysteries and a slow-build character development. Both of these things I love!  I will continue to read this series; this book is just another well written chapter to a great series!

Bea

Review: Dirty Laundry — by Rhys Ford

Dirty_Laundry_RFOther Reviewers: Goodreads

This is not my first time in reviewing this series, Cole McGinnis Mystery.  I reviewed the first and second book on October 7, 2012.  I recommend reading the first two novel before the third, Dirty Laundry.  I also recommend reading those novels prior to this review.

For the record:  I was given this book in advance by the author for review, however it does not affect my rating score.

Basic Plot:

Dirty Laundry opens shortly after the ending of book two, Dirty Secret.  Both Cole and Jae deal with family troubles in the beginning of this installment.  Jae discovers his younger sister on his doorstep and Cole’s Japanese half-brother suddenly appears in town to meet the family.

Meanwhile, Cole takes a new case with a cagey fortune-teller and some untimely deaths.  As usual, Cole quickly gets drawn into the danger.  Can their relationship survive another drama?

Cole McGinnis:

Much of the character descriptions I made for book one and two continue in book three.  Cole is a man who devotes everything to his friends and family.  His father and step-mother have disowned him because of his sexuality and only his brother and sister-in-law remain.  Cole’s previous boyfriend was brutally murdered and Cole was left with both emotional and physical scars.  Now, risks his heart again with Jae, but that relationship remains turbulent at best.

Kim Jae-Min:

In many ways Jae remains a mystery.  We only see him through Cole’s eyes.  Jae struggles to keep his a hold of his family, at the risk of his relationship with Cole and his own happiness.

In typical gay romances we see men who are “out” or they are “closeted”, but rarely do we find a lead who doesn’t want to be gay.  That is a more complex situation, is it not, to accept that he is gay destroys Jae’s current world.  A portion of this series is about how Jae discovers if Cole’s love is catalyst enough for change.

I find Jae one of the most complex characters I have ever read.

Theme Summary:

My previous thoughts on the series theme are found here.  But in Dirty Laundry, I discovered it is not just about sacrifice, but about love.  What happens when the past sacrifices you made just don’t seem worth it for true love?  At what point do you have to make a stand for what is truly important to you?  What happens when you can’t?  A quote from Cole that I found moving:

….”I’d want them to be loved by someone who gave a shit about them.  Because that’s what love is.  That person… that one person that makes you feel like you can do any damned thing you want to do really giving a shit about you deep down inside of their soul.  That’s love.”

So, for me, this book was all about love.  But what happens when you just can’t accept that love?

Strong Points:

As with my previous review, I still consider the Korean culture an important aspect of the story.  As described in this series, the option of being “out” is not always a feasible option for eastern cultures such as Korean.  Rhys Ford takes the closeted aspect and twists it.  While this follows a ” tropey” topic in m/m fiction, this novel has a distinct feel.  I believe how Dirty Laundry is crafted provides a deeper depiction than other authors have provided in the past.

Another strong aspect was the mystery.  On most “mystery” romance books (all types), I can figure out the “who done it” way in advance.  But Rhys Ford manages to hide the truth through many red herrings that damn, I followed right along.  I think how the author succeeds here is in only seeing Cole’s perspective.  But it works marvelously.

What could be better?

I really can’t see questioning anything about this book.  We only receive Cole’s perspective, and that can be frustrating at times.  I understand why the author chooses to do so, but I really want to get into Jae’s brain sometimes.  I do not want to spoil anything, but we are left with a cliffhanger at the end of the novel.  You should be used to it from reading the other stories.

Conclusions:

The relationship is a complex one, between Jae and Cole.  It is something that cannot be answered in one book, which is why this series is such a success.  Ford gives us the time and space to fully discover both characters, rather than rushing through it in one.  I loved this series, one of my favorites and I am very grateful to the author for showing it to me.

I look forward to discovering more about our devoted Cole and our haunted Jae.

Bea

Review: Dirty Secret — by Rhys Ford

   

Other Reviewers: Goodreads

Intro:

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.

Basic Plot:

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.

Kim Jae-Min:

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.

Theme Summary:

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.

Strong Points:

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.

Conclusions:

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.

Bea