REVIEW: Cheating Chance by James Buchanan
You’ve just published the third (and last?) book, All or Nothing, in your Taking the Odds series and I thought this was a good chance for me to reread (and review) the first two as a refresher before I start Book 3.
Cheating Chance is the first book in the series. From the MLR Website:
Vice Detective, Brandon Carr, despite his tattoos and bad-boy cool, lives in the closet with no intention of ever coming out. Then he meets Nevada Gaming Agent, Nick O’Malley, at a Goth convention and his perfectly constructed world starts to crack. Nick’s passions for him, a restored hearse and rope bondage might drown Brandon’s will. With the odds stacked against them they try to move from simply sex to something more. Sparks fly as the pair probes a world of cheating, murder, drugs and money laundering. The investigation repeatedly derails their relationship, finally forcing Brandon to choose between staying in the closet and saving Nick’s life.
Brandon, a tattooed cop, meets Nicky, a goth computer geek, at a goth convention in San Diego. They have one amazing evening together and, when they leave, hook up over the internet. Brandon lives and works in Riverside, outside of LA, and Nicky is a Gaming Control Agent in Las Vegas. Their relationship is long-distance, very tentative, and extremely fraught. Brandon is very much still in the closet. It took him till he was in his early 20s to admit he was gay and by that point he was already a cop. He’s only ever wanted to be a cop and gay cops just don’t do so well, so he’s deeply closeted, to the point that when he and Nicky go away together, far from their hometowns, he’s still pissed that Nicky booked them only one room, even though there’s two beds in it. Nicky, OTOH, is very out and upset that Brandon’s pushing him back into the closet and extremely pissed and hurt when Brandon ignores him at parties to flirt with the cute girls as a cover.
I love how integral their work is to who these men are. Brandon is a cop, couldn’t imagine being anything other than a cop. It’s who he is on a fundamental level almost more than the fact that he’s gay. He’s a cop first, gay second. Nick is a Gaming Control Agent, and you’ve obviously done your research here. The details of what the Gaming Control Board is and does are expertly woven into the book. Sometimes the descriptions got a little too technical for me, but mostly that was when I was reading in a distracting environment. When I wasn’t being pulled five different ways, your descriptions were interesting, worthwhile, and very necessary to the plot and to understanding Nicky.
The suspense/mystery plot is very well-done. You have such a gift for making the actual minutiae of police work look utterly realistic and therefore hideously boring (to me) and yet still so obviously compelling (to the characters). I get why Brandon is a cop and totally get why I’m not. You can make the details of EPROMs for slot machines and computer code and witness interviews sound thrilling and I’ve read enough suspense/mysteries to know that that’s not easy, because usually they just bore me silly. And the ending is edge-of-your-seat reading that pits Brandon’s need to stay closeted with his feelings for Nicky.
And I love these characters. I love them enough that my one BIG problem with this book is that Brandon is such a fucking jerk about Nick outing him to a Vegas detective who was threatening Nick with obstruction charges during the murder investigation in the book if Nick didn’t come clean about their exact relationship. And I love them enough to be furious that Nick was sometimes a doormat when it comes to Brandon’s demands. But I also love how they FIGHT and then are pissy and then make-up but not all the way, then get over it. They’re act just like real people who aren’t perfect but are desperately trying to make something work.
Warnings for readers:
1. There’s a date rape scene that does a great job of dealing with the emotions and the fall-out of the rape and also with the ambiguities of how to deal with it.
2. There’s also incredibly hot bondage (not the same scene).
3. But, oh lord, the copy editing sucks. There’s mis-fired chapter breaks and a complete lack of any sort of recognizable rules when it comes to commas. Copy editors are your friends, MLR Press. Please remember that.
Grade: a nice solid B