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Sunita’s 2011 TBR Challenge Review: Blood Heat and Dead Run (Dangerous...

[Spoiler Warning: It's impossible to talk about Book #4 without alluding to issues that were unresolved in Book #3, so readers who want to remain unspoiled should stop after the first review.]

Dear Mr. Lanyon,

Blood Heat by Josh LanyonThis month’s TBR Challenge topic is “series catch up,” and since I was busy catching up on your Dangerous Ground series in order to read the latest release, Dead Run, I seized the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. I read Dangerous Ground quite a while ago (and Jayne has reviewed it for Dear Author), and then I read Old Poison last month. As I said then, although I’m a big fan of your work, the DG books have not really clicked for me. I wasn’t sure why, so I kept reading.

When I read Blood Heat, I finally understood why this series is so popular with readers. It combines an adventure-serial sensibility with an ongoing romantic relationship. You describe it as your popcorn series (albeit gourmet popcorn), and that is true from a plot point of view, but I think the relationship is handled seriously. And as the series progresses, the relationship becomes deeper, more complex, and for me, more problematic.

Will and Taylor are agents with the U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security. When the series began, they were partners who were attracted to each other, but they didn’t act on it for fear they would ruin their friendship and working relationship. In addition, Will looked at Taylor’s history of brief, no-commitment flings and didn’t believe that Taylor could be constant or faithful. But by the end of the first novella he had decided to take the risk. Old Poison found them working out the boundaries of the relationship and hiding it from their boss and coworkers because of the no-fraternization rule.

In Blood Heat our heroes are in New Mexico to pick up and transport a material witness to Los Angeles. They decide not to request local backup and regret it when their witness, the amusingly named and very pregnant Kelila Hedwig, is taken from them at gunpoint by an agent of the Russian mob. The rest of the plot involves retrieving Hedwig, keeping her safe from both her ex-boyfriend and the mob, and getting her out of New Mexico without coming to harm themselves. Will and Taylor wind up narrowly escaping a flash flood as well as various types of man-made harm, and the pace and dialogue crackle with energy and humor. And despite the almost non-stop action, you are able to integrate a hot and sweet sex scene that doesn’t seem out of place.

On the relationship front, Will and Taylor are offered an unlooked-for solution to the fraternization problem their relationship raises: Will has been offered a promotion in a prized location: he has the chance to be the DS liaison in Paris. But this means a separation and a long-distance relationship:

Taylor summoned his energy and hoped any lack of enthusiasm would be put down to natural fatigue. “It’s a big honor, and it’s an incredible opportunity. A hell of an opportunity.”

“So you keep saying.”

“And I’m proud of you. Happy for you.”

Except…

Except it would mean Will would be posted in Paris for a minimum of two years.

Two years apart.

“But?”

“There is no but. I’m happy for you. I’m proud of you.” The more he insisted, the less sincere he sounded, and he was afraid Will could hear it.

There was an uncomfortable pause.

“Right. But if you’d been offered the assignment, you’d have refused it.”

The bitterness of Will’s tone shocked Taylor silent for an instant. And then he was angry.

“Yeah. I would’ve.”

The promotion is a sore spot throughout the story and they never directly talk about it. While this is consistent with guy-type behavior, it’s such a big deal that it seems to have more implications than that here. For me, it fits with Will’s unwillingness to share decision making with Taylor, and that makes me uncomfortable. Will sees Taylor as too risk-taking and acts to protect him, even though Taylor has seniority and doesn’t come across to me as overly rash or thrill-seeking. That said, my reservations arise in part because you do a very good job of making these characters seem real to me, so in this book I’ve started investing in them whether I want to or not. Overall, Blood Heat is a satisfying read that advances the relationship and provides an enjoyable suspense plot., and the balance of romance and adventure is deftly managed.

Grade: B

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[Spoiler space for readers who are stopping here]

 

 

Dead Run Josh LanyonWhen Dead Run opens, Taylor is at LAX, on his way to visit Will in Paris after eleven months apart. While standing in the check-in line he sees a man who reminds him of a Basque terrorist from the 1970s. The ensuing investigation fails to uncover the suspect but causes him to miss the flight. The stage is now set for both aspects of the story: the mystery of who is threatening acts of terror in Paris, and Will and Taylor’s fraught relationship. They are both still committed to each other, but the distance, the prospect of Taylor’s new job post, and the reappearance of past visitors all conspire to mess up what was supposed to be a lovely vacation. Not to mention the bomb plots.

The Paris setting is evoked beautifully; while I’m not an expert on Paris, the places I knew were well done and I never felt as if I was being taken on a heavy-handed tour. And the suspense plot was surprisingly intricate for a novella, but it unfolded clearly. I really liked the resolution, because while it made sense, it was almost the opposite of what I expected. I was surprised, and I love that in a mystery!

As usual, work brings Will and Taylor together again as they try to anticipate the terrorists, and for the most part they work well together. Taylor fits almost seamlessly into the Paris Embassy staff and he even impresses the Paris police and security forces. Also as usual, Will is constantly on guard, waiting for Taylor to be placed in danger or injured. And while he has grounds for concern given what Taylor’s been through in the previous three books, it felt more like Will’s problem than Taylor’s.

What I mean by that is that Will is constantly trying to keep Taylor from putting himself at risk in a job that entails risk and that Taylor is really good at. For Taylor to be able to identify someone from decades ago suggests a level of skill and talent that is astonishing. But while Will recognizes his abilities, I’m starting to wonder if he really gives them their due.

“It’s a big coincidence, Will. I just happen to spot a guy I think might be wanted by Interpol for the last thirty years, and that guy just happens to miss his flight?”

Will sighed, weary of the subject of Yann Helloco. “Yes, it’s a big coincidence. So was your sister showing up at the airport today. Coincidences happen. They’re not all sinister.”

“He could be on his way to Paris right now.”

“So could you.” The minute it slipped out, Will regretted it. Taylor had done the right thing; Will would have done the same thing in his place. The difference being Will wouldn’t recognize a terrorist from the seventies if the dude walked up and punched him in the nose.

In other words, Taylor has potentially made a huge discovery, one that Will couldn’t have made, but Will is still annoyed because Taylor missed his flight. Never mind that Will has somehow managed not to use his required home leave in the same eleven months and visit Taylor. This is The Big Vacation and Taylor is screwing it up.

Now, before irate lovers of W&T come after me, let me say that I really do believe in the relationship you’ve developed for these two over the course of four books. I believe they care about each other. But throughout the series, Will behaves in increasingly controlling ways and doesn’t seem to have a clue about it. The various decisions he comes to about their relationship, while in some ways romantic, are decisions that make him feel better. So while part of me is rooting for them to find a way to be together permanently, another part of me is telling Taylor to run away until Will gets a clue.

The fact that I could write at least three more paragraphs about this relationship and my conflicted feelings about it should tell readers something about the skill with which you’ve developed their romance over the course of the series. You leave us on a cliffhanger at the end (again!), and not only do I not know how you will resolve it, but I’m conflicted over what resolution I want to see. If that isn’t investment, I don’t know what is.

Grade: B

Only available at Loose Id.

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, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley. She blogs as VacuousMinx and tweets as @sunita_p.

12 Comments

  1. Janine
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 13:15:38

    Excellent reviews! I still haven’t read Josh Lanyon and really want to.

  2. Sirius
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 13:54:46

    Excellent review Sunita. Now just to show you how much I hate cliffhangers. I could not wait to get book three and when I read that it ends with cliffhanger, I put it aside and waited. Now book four ends with another cliffhanger. We shall see how long I will last lol. I really really do not care for Will you describe in your review (sad), however based on how much I loved what this writer did with Jake from AE series, I have faith that his character’s journey will be satisfactory for me. My only question is when I will break down and actually read it.

    Heh, at least Rifter will be done by the end of the year and I can happily read all ten parts together, the next book in these series may come next year or year after?

  3. Amy Kathryn
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 14:39:36

    I finally read Josh Lanyon after you and Jayne guided me to Come onto these Yellow Sands. I really liked it and am now choosing my next from his backlist. I will probably wait a while for this one because I am another who cannot do cliffhangers very well.

  4. Jorrie Spencer
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 14:59:50

    I enjoyed reading your reviews! I have a particular soft spot for Old Poison, though I can’t articulate exactly why. But I have been enjoying this series, for sure. I do think there’s a slight power imbalance in the relationship, and that Will takes advantage of it, so it’s been interesting to watch that develop.

  5. Sunita
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 17:05:11

    @Sirius: For me, the difference between Jake and Will is that if you told Jake he was being a controlling alphahole he probably wouldn’t argue the point. Will seems to think he’s acting in everyone’s best interests.

    @Jorrie Spencer: Yes, exactly. Taylor keeps getting thrown into jeopardy so Will has good reason to be worried. But Taylor gives in to the control because of his love for Will. Without the gender dimension to the power imbalance, the role emotions play is more apparent. And like you, I feel as if it’s been revealed over the course of the books.

  6. Sirius
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 20:06:17

    @Sunita: Very interesting. I think I agree that Jake of book five would have done what you are suggesting. Jake of book three? I am honestly not sure. That is why I am wondering whether Will of the last book would still be thinking that he is acting in everybody’s best interests. If he will be doing that, oh well. I loved plenty of books with extremely flawed characters and sometimes with characters I hated (mm and not mm), but that would probably mean that these series will not be comfort reread for me. We shall see and we shall see how long my self restraint exercise will last.
    Have you read Felicia Watson’s “Where the Alegheny meets the Monongahela”? If you have not, this romance contains one of the most flawed romance heroes I have ever read about. I mean, never in my life I would have imagined that I will feel sorry for the guy and cheer for him on his journey, because what he did is usually an unexcusable thing for me in rl and still this writer made me believe in his journey. I mean, I have no doubt that Josh Lanyon is capable of that and more, but I am now curious if Will’s being controlling is something which character meant to realize as a flaw. Interesting. As I mentioned before, I stopped after book two, so I have not witnessed full extent of Will’s control issues. It *could* be a turn off for me, especially if it mixed with manipulativeness. Thank you for the review again.

  7. Sunita
    Sep 23, 2011 @ 21:51:14

    @Sirius: Good point on Jake. I love flawed heroes (and thanks very much for that recommendation!), so I’m always torn. My inner critic is appreciating the complexity and ambiguity of the characterization, while my inner emotional reader is saying “be careful!” to the person who seems to be ceding too much power to the loved one. I think it is a conscious authorial choice to make Will controlling, because of what we learn about him (and Taylor) over the course of the series. And because I think that, I’m curious to watch the relationship develop. I don’t think Will is consciously manipulative; rather, it’s how he copes with the power issue, especially the power he gives Taylor by being in love with him. It’s a very interesting characterization of a relationship.

  8. Liz Mc2
    Sep 24, 2011 @ 10:47:04

    Great review; I look forward to #4. I often find the power dynamics in Lanyon’s books somewhat discomfiting, but what I like about that is that they play out in unexpected ways. The power shifts around, as you and commenters point out. In romantic suspense/mystery with a heterosexual couple, you almost always (though not inevitably) have the big strong alphamale rescuer and damsel in distress whose main power is making the hero love her. That fantasy gets old to me; one of the appeals of m/m romance is the way it can (really, must) break those conventions.

  9. Sunita
    Sep 24, 2011 @ 14:47:45

    @Liz Mc2: I have the feeling that readers would be a lot less sympathetic toward Will if he were the hero in a het romance, since they are often quite sensitive to gendered power dynamics.

  10. Sirius
    Sep 24, 2011 @ 15:06:00

    @Sunita: Ah see if he is not consciously manipulative (a la lets say Dumbledore from Harry Potter), then it maybe easier for me to master some sympathy for him. As I said earlier I can easily manage to like the book and be indifferent/or hate the main characters, but boy oh boy manipulative controlling characters push all the wrong buttons for me. I see your response to Liz Mc2 below and I have to say that I am just as unsympathetic towards manipulators in gay romance, or maybe even more so, since I abandoned regular reading of het romance long time ago and now read one or two a month/every couple months tops (love well done het romantic storylines in urban fantasy though).

    As to author’s choice to make Will controlling, if it is so, I actually quite welcome it, even if it may sound contradictory to what I just wrote. Am I making sense? In other words Will as you are describing in books three and four does not sound too romantic for me, but as great flawed lead in the mm/gay mystery he will work totally fine for me. I will just be less invested in them as a couple. But thats ok too, I read plenty of books without any romance in them, which I love. If they are to remain romantic couple when series end, I do wish that Will would buy a clue though and realize that some of his behavior is not that nice.

    And I cannot recommend Felicia Watson’s book highly enough, to me it is a proof that good writer can make me feel for character with ANY flaws (well, maybe not any, I still do not want rapist and murderer as romantic lead), but as I said, I could never imagine I would feel sorry for the lead there (one of the leads that is).

  11. Sirius
    Sep 24, 2011 @ 15:08:41

    @Liz Mc2: I agree, I certainly did not care for those power dynamics in het romance. At the same time though, I do not care for the same masked dynammics in gay romance and I do not think that this is what is happening in these series, but I have read too many gay romances, where one of the guys felt like a man only because of his name. It is not my cup of tea at all.

  12. Sunita
    Sep 25, 2011 @ 08:42:56

    Sirius, I think I understand exactly what you mean. Will is quite romantic, in the sense that he clearly loves Taylor and he’s trying, but his blindness to what he is doing and to what his own issues are create the problems. For me, the investment increased because while the relationship is flawed, it’s flawed in a way that reflects what real people go through in trying to manage competing desires and interests. In Book 1, I enjoy reading about the relationship but I don’t really connect to it. By Book 4, I’m mad at Will because I really want it to work for both of them. JL has hooked me in.

    And I agree this is not a standard, gendered m/f power dynamic at all. This is a power dynamic that arises in relationships quite apart from the dynamic created by m/f gender roles.

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