REVIEW: Spin Out by James Buchanan
Dear Ms. Buchanan.
It’s no secret that I love your books, your writing style, your voice. I especially loved Hard Fall, the first book in the series that has become The Deputy Joe Series (with another one in the works, apparently). And there are moments of absolutely sublimity in this book that just left me looking at my iPhone screen in awe, trying to figure out how writing could be so perfectly evocative. But there’s also a saggy middle, some repetition, and…well, I don’t particularly like police procedurals, so the book dragged a bit for me in places. But the emotional punch of the relationship is up to your usual brilliance, and that’s what really counted for me.
Deputy Joe Paterson is in a relationship with Kabe Varghese — how they got that way is covered in Hard Fall. When the relationship comes out, he is excommunicated from the Mormon church, loses most of his community support, and is suspended from his job as a Deputy Sheriff, because Kabe is on probation and was a person of interest in a murder investigation.
What we learn in Spin Out is that it’s the probation part that is really the issue, not the person of interest part, because it’s an illegal abuse of power for a LEO to be involved in a sexual relationship with anyone in “custody” of the law, including anyone on probation. Kabe is seen as the “victim” in that situation, possibly coerced or blackmailed into the sexual relationship by Joe. And Joe’s on the hook for this, big time: he’s been called to a hearing that will decide whether to suspend or revoke his license to be a cop. Kabe has been subpoenaed as a witness to the hearing, but Joe convinces him that it’s not a big deal. He’s equally trying to protect Kabe from any worry, trying to minimize the situation for himself, and also truly believes that it’s his shit to deal with, not Kabe’s.
Which is how the relationship blows up, because Kabe is called to testify, and is blindsided by the intimate and intrusive nature of the questions he’s asked, and comes out of it believing that Joe doesn’t trust him enough to tell him about what’s going on in their life together. And he’s right, of course. The heart of the story is Joe coming to recognize how badly he’s wronged Kabe by NOT telling him stuff and how much he needs to open up and start communicating if he wants the relationship to survive. The emotional power of the break between Joe and Kabe is huge, and watching Joe move his fool self from utterly oblivious to fully committed to fixing his idiocy is wonderful.
But the narrative as a whole is also frustratingly repetitive and could have used some tightening in the middle a bit. There were parts during which Joe almost literally repeats when he said/thought a few pages previously and while I understand that he’s a stubborn son-of-a-bitch and the point is that he keeps repeating himself, I still think some tighter edits would have been helpful without losing the strength of Joe’s character or the power of his emotional arc. Most egregiously, on page 46, Joe talks over the phone with a friend of his, the only friend he really has: “Don’t know how long I was out there. Long enough that I sketched out the basics for Dev…and I didn’t need to fill in a lot of blanks.” And although Joe says “I probably left a lot of it out,” when he meets with Dev 100 pages later, I didn’t expect that Dev wouldn’t know that Joe had been excommunicated, that Kabe had received the subpoena. It was like the hour-long phone conversation hadn’t happened at ALL and that Dev was talking with Joe for the first time. I kept wondering if I was crazy. VERY frustrating as a reader.
This is all told against the backdrop of a police procedural murder mystery that’s got a lot more witness interrogation than I’m usually willing to read. I don’t LIKE police procedurals. I find them generally boring because they have little to do with the themes or plot of the emotional heart of the novel. And this one is, yes, a bit much for me. I mean, I like that the “mystery” is just hunting down the witnesses and not any super-skull-duggery, but watching Joe interview witnesses one-on-one, without those interviews having much to do with the emotional heart of the story, except at the very end, is…boring *to me*. Thinking about it, the themes of the mystery could match the themes of the romance part, but only if you squint.
However, I was more than compensated for my impatience with the police procedural part in a few important ways: 1. by the strength of the characters, by the realism of the situations — Kabe and Joe have a HUGE fight and nothing is magically fixed; they get back together but still have to discuss things…in their own way; and 2. by the sheer and utter beauty of your prose sometimes:
I knew—exactly—the moment I fell for him. “When we’re up on the mountain getting ready to go down for that woman’s body, you remember, you smiled at me.” It was like the sun had touched the earth and been born in his body. “That’s when I think I really lost my reason.”
“Because I smiled?” Kabe just sounded confused at that. “That made it all worth it—risking getting kicked off the force?”
“Because,” I tried to tame that whole whirlwind into a sentence, “when you smiled at me right then, I saw something.” I’d seen more than just something, I’d seen a possibility of everything. “See, there’s this light I feel inside of me whenever I look at taking on a mountain and pitting my soul against the rock. It’s like a passion, like I sometimes get for you.” Rubbed my face against his and just breathe in his smell. “And that light, that I feel down in here,” I pushed my fingers against his sternum, “there it was, all up in your face. And I’m thinking, he understands.” Oh, Lord, did he ever. “He feels the same thing I feel. When we went back up on the mountain the next day, I really wasn’t planning anything other than to actually go find that camera, but also just kinda be with you.”
Joe eventually figures things out and does it in a way that’s connected with the BDSM play they engage in. And there’s a LOT of that, btw, as hot as always:
Followed him on up into my bedroom. Watched him strip off his shirt and jeans. That boy was right fine. All lean, honed and hard. There were a hundred things I wanted to do to that body. It kinda hit me then, I’d been thinking on Kabe as being mine. Not like boyfriend mine, but like he belonged to me. That I could do what I wanted, because I wanted. And it weren’t like that. I could do things to him because he suffered me to do them to him. It got him off. And in getting him off, well I got to go along on that ride. Even if I controlled the when, where and what of it, it was ’cause he wanted me to. He trusted me to. That…it kinda went both ways, and I hadn’t been playing fair. I expected to know everything about him and didn’t give him nothing back. Even when it might mean he’d have to go through the wringer with me.
And that’s what makes this book so worthwhile. I could just wish that the middle had been tightened quite a bit. But the emotional payoff kept me reading this book long after my bed time and what more do we want from a book anyway?