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REVIEW: Fair Game by Josh Lanyon

Dear Mr. Lanyon,

My recent and much too delayed venture into m/m romance led naturally to your books, given their strong reviews and word-of-mouth and my predilection for mysteries.   I have your first two Adrien English books in my ebook TBR, but when I saw that you had a stand-alone coming out from Carina, I was intrigued. I’m a sucker for novels set in colleges and I was hooked from the first few pages.

Fair Game by Josh LanyonElliot Mills is a former FBI agent who also has a Ph.D. in history. This credential turns out to be fortunate when he is injured in a shootout and has to give up his field agent position. Rather than accept a desk job, he changes careers and becomes a history professor at Puget Sound University, where his father was a beloved, longtime faculty member until his retirement. While Elliot’s ability to secure a plum academic position at the drop of a hat requires a major suspension of my disbelief, your pitch-perfect descriptions of college life, down to Elliot’s faculty colleagues and the President, lets me treat it as a fiction shortcut rather than a sign of inaccuracies to come.

Elliot’s dull but comfortable faculty existence is interrupted by the disappearance of one of the college’s undergraduates, Terry Baker, who also happens to be the son of his father’s old friends. When Elliot investigates, he is brought into contact with his ex-lover, Tucker Lance, who is still in the FBI, serving as a field agent assigned to investigate violent crimes. Elliot and Tucker had a brief, passionate affair which ended abruptly and badly during Elliot’s long rehabilitation from the injuries he suffered during the shootout. Elliot blames Tucker for abandoning him when he lost his career, and Tucker harbors his own set of grievances.   As Eliot investigates Baker’s disappearance, another male student goes missing, and Elliot and those around him become the targets of a serial killer.   As Eliot and Tucker grudgingly work together to solve these crimes, they also confront their unresolved feelings for each other and what Eliot’s changed physical and career circumstances mean if they are to rekindle their relationship.

I was immediately drawn into the story by the quality of the writing and by your characterization of Eliot. I know I’m not his type, but I found him immensely attractive. He has a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor and a healthy level of self-awareness.   The reader discovers in the first few pages that Eliot is gay and comfortable with it:

On cue, the blonde in the front line of chairs made a moue of surprise and shifted in her chair to better display her long, slim legs.

What was her name again? Mrachek, Leslie. That was it.

Catching his gaze, Mrachek smiled demurely. Elliot bit back a sardonic grin. Barking up the wrong tree, there, Mrachek, Leslie. If Elliot was inclined to get involved with a student–and he wasn’t– it would more likely be the broad-shouldered redhead sitting next to her. Sandusky, John.

I laughed out loud at Mrachek, Leslie and Sandusky, John. Yes, that is how names often appear on class rosters, and I have been known to think of my students that way.

Elliot really misses his previous life, even though he likes teaching. When his father asks him to talk to the Bakers about their son, he enjoys getting the chance to investigate again. Eliot’s relationship with his father is warm and loving, even though they are very different.   In some m/m romances the conflict   is generated by the protagonists’ sexual orientation and the difficulties they face with friends and family, while here the unresolved issues in the book stem entirely from the mystery and Elliot and Tucker's feelings about each other. I found this focus refreshing. I like books in which gay men are working through the complications of coming out, but it’s equally fun to read a story in which the characters’ identity is a given and the reader gets to see how the plot and characterizations are the same as and/or different from a straight romance.

Eliot and Tucker don’t have much face time until over halfway through the book.   I found this a little frustrating because I was more interested in how Elliot was dealing with his feelings for Tucker than how the crimes would be solved, so I occasionally became impatient at the mystery (even though I like mysteries and read a lot of non-romantic ones). The mystery itself is interesting and mostly held my attention, but there were a lot of moving parts (and characters) and not all of them were fleshed out. I am not an expert on serial killer mysteries, but I guess when you have lots of victims you wind up with lots of characters, and when you add the necessary red herrings for the reader, the cast balloons. Nonetheless, you included enough phone conversations between Elliot and Tucker to keep me going, and the scene in the car was terrific. By the time they finally got together, I was seriously invested in their success.

And I felt well rewarded by the way the relationship unfolded. Everything is written from Elliot’s POV, so we don’t know that much about Tucker other than what Elliot tells us. But Tucker turns out to be the more straightforward and risk-taking partner, which I didn’t expect. Since Elliot is so articulate and appealing, my sympathies were with him until the scenes where the two finally talk about the past and negotiate the present and future. Then I started to get annoyed with Eliot for not appreciating what was staring him in the face. Luckily he wised up, mostly, and I believed in at least an HFN, not least because good grief, he’d be an idiot to give up such good sex with such a decent guy!   Seriously, though, the good sex and the emotions are interwoven really well. The sex scenes are not that long or explicit, but I found them satisfying.

Both the characterizations and the major relationships are very well realized. Elliot's relationship with his father, and the romance between Elliot and Tucker were believable and stayed in my head after I finished the book. To the extent that characters and story elements felt inadequately developed, I think these limitations might be due to the word count restrictions rather than to authorial shortcomings.

This book has been described as a stand-alone, I believe, but I would happily read more about Elliot’s adventures at PSU and Tucker’s at the FBI, and of course the ups and downs of their relationship. Failing that, I’m off to immerse myself in your extensive backlist. B.

~Sunita

Book Link | Kindle | nook

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Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Jordan Castillo Price, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley.

15 Comments

  1. RachelT
    Aug 06, 2010 @ 16:14:01

    I have just finished this today, and would have given a B+/A-, because for me the mystery is as important as the romance (lovely as that is).

    As you say, the quality of the writing is excellent. Nice relationships with colleagues and family.

    I also think the mystery is well structured, and the reader is on the same page as the characters. For example, several times we are told about actions of the secondary characters, which seem highly suspicious to the reader. Often in these situations I find my mind shouting at the hero/ine to note what has happened, think about its significance, and not be stupid. In Fair Game, just as I am starting to shout, Elliot notes the suspicious action and makes a mental note to himself for future reference – very satisfying.

    I did enjoy how the romance between Elliott and Tucker built/developed, and that the issues which lay between them were dealt with and not just glossed over.I too would love to hear more about Elliott and Tucker, both in their relationship and their ability to solve a murder.

    ReplyReply

  2. Mezza
    Aug 07, 2010 @ 02:10:16

    I haven’t read this book yet but always have anything by Josh Lanyon on my auto-buy list. I would love it if Dear Author did an interview with Josh. Nearly all his books have the hero/one-of-the-leads dealing with some form of injury and disability and the consequences that fall out of this. I also love the noir-detective thing eg. Adrien English or ‘The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks’. It would be great to hear about the ‘whys’ of all of this.

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  3. Patty
    Aug 07, 2010 @ 08:34:50

    Josh Lanyon is an auto-buy for me as well. I read Fair Game and enjoyed the mystery- I didn’t figure it out until Elliot did. The unfolding of the relationship between Elliot and Tucker was interseting, also.I was surprised that Elliot was ultimately more reticent than Tucker. I suspect we will read more about Elliot and Tucker in the future.

    One of my favorite things about all of Josh Lanyon’s characters is that they are imminently recognizable as regular human beings. They have the same kinds of flaws and issues as I do or those of my friends. Therefore, I can laugh and cry and shout at the characters when they are messing up and feel a sense of wonder at the first kiss. It is a real gift for an author to be able to write books that engage readers to that extent.

    Sunita, you need to hurry and read all 5 of the Adrien English books. That series will eliminate the concerns you had in Fair Game with the lack of development of characters. Then move on to the rest of his fabulous back list!

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  4. Mezza
    Aug 07, 2010 @ 09:11:33

    I second Patty re the Adrien English books and add that one of the things I loved about them was the length of time it took the relationship between Adrien and his true love to work out. So much had to change in both of them and in their lives before the HEA was possible and that takes time and it does in these stories.

    ReplyReply

  5. Tweets that mention REVIEW: Fair Game by Josh Lanyon | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Aug 07, 2010 @ 09:27:05

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steven Suchar, Jenny Schwartz. Jenny Schwartz said: I read Dear Author daily. Thrilled to see another great review for a Carina Press author. Yay Josh! http://bit.ly/b8Y0oq [...]

  6. Sirius11214
    Aug 07, 2010 @ 14:52:27

    I was so so sure that I knew the villain in this one, way too often in my experience in too many mysteries the rule of thumb is that whichever character author casts suspicion the least is actually the villain. Nope, Josh Lanyon fooled me again and I was so happy :) Yes, I love Andrien English books too, a lot.

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  7. Sunita
    Aug 07, 2010 @ 17:57:47

    Sorry for the late response, I’m traveling and only have intermittment internet contact.

    @RachelT: I waffled a lot on the grade, because I’m still trying to figure out how to weigh the various elements (and everyone is different). For me a B is definitely a recommendation, though.
    @Mezza: I liked this better than Ghost in the Yellow Socks (which I enjoyed). I think Fair Game is better developed and better written.

    And the Adrien English books are high in my TBR! Thanks for all the encouragement on them. I plan on working my way through most of JL’s backlist in the not so distant futture.

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  8. orannia
    Aug 08, 2010 @ 18:49:07

    Thank you Sunita!

    I third Patty & Mezza on reading the Adrien English series. I started them earlier this year…and devoured them! Character development is a must for me, and the AE books have it in spades :)

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  9. Sunita
    Aug 11, 2010 @ 11:30:00

    OK, you guys are moving the AE books even higher in my TBR!

    I really should have given this book a B+. I’m still trying to figure out how to give a standard set of grades across a disparate set of books. I don’t think of a B as a bad grade, because I want to use the whole spectrum, but I also want people to read the book! Live and learn.

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  10. Joan/SarahF
    Aug 15, 2010 @ 10:34:37

    Elliot’s ability to get a Ph.D. in history, which can take from 10-15 years after undergrad, as well as to have a good career in the FBI, was what threatened my suspension of disbelief.

    It did remind me that I really DON’T like murder-mysteries, though. They’re just…boring to me. I want to see the relationships between characters and I don’t like the constant questioning that rarely deals with anything except the murder mystery. Nor do I like having to mistrust every character in the book besides the main characters.

    That said, I did enjoy this book. Loved Elliot and Tucker. Loved watching Elliot have to overturn his own way of thinking about the previous relationship and its downfall. Really enjoyed the two of them together. My first Josh Lanyon, if you can believe it, and if he writes NON-murder-mystery, I’d be very happy to read it.

    ReplyReply

  11. Dear Author Recommends for August | Dear Author
    Aug 17, 2010 @ 20:57:11

    [...] Fair Game by Josh Lanyon.  Recommended by Sunita. [...]

  12. Jorrie Spencer
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 19:42:27

    @Joan/SarahF The Dickens With Love is non-murder-mystery. I really liked it. I liked this one too, which I just finished recently.

    ReplyReply

  13. REVIEW: All She Wrote by Josh Lanyon | Dear Author
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 14:02:02

    [...] I began reading gay romance, or m/m, last year, your novels were among the first I read, and Fair Game was one of my top reads of 2010. My second-favorite fiction genre is mystery, so your books are [...]

  14. REVIEW: Come Unto These Yellow Sands, by Josh Lanyon | Dear Author
    Jun 13, 2011 @ 12:42:20

    [...] for your series that some readers may be less familiar with your stand-alone books. I’ve done my part to avoid this possibility, and I was delighted to see that you were releasing a new stand-alone [...]

  15. PRIDE WEEK: Contemporary Recommendations from Sunita | Dear Author
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 09:00:15

    [...] Fair Game, by Josh Lanyon. This is one of the first dozen or so m/m books I read, the second book I reviewed at Dear Author, and one of my Top 10 reads of 2010. I was immediately taken with the concise, understated writing [...]

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