A guest review by Jenre
In the year since JD Ryan, Robert Lemos’s life partner, packed his bags and moved out, Robert has been in a painful daze, anesthetizing himself with work. Then one rainy night, he gets a call that his ex has been beaten and shot in a parking lot outside a gay dance club. JD is in critical condition and the man who was with him is dead.
Robert rushes to JD’s bedside to find him recovering from the gunshot wound but suffering from retrograde amnesia. As JD slowly regains his memories, he recalls everything except the circumstances of the murder, and the reasons why he left Robert. He remembers their love, and seems determined to reconcile. It’s the miracle Robert’s been hoping for.
Interference comes from all sides. Detective Bill Turner, who seems to have too personal an interest in JD, pegs Robert as the primary suspect in the shooting. Robert’s best friend, police Captain Gabe Lara, seems to feel that Robert is better off without JD. Even JD’s returning memory seems to conspire against Robert. And as the detectives track down the killer, Robert helplessly waits for JD to recall the truth of their relationship and leave him yet again.
But if they survive the investigation, they just might find love in retrograde.
I put off reading this ambitious book by AM Riley because I wasn’t sure I would like the amnesia plot, especially as I was worried that the main hero, Robert, was going to lie and keep secrets from JD, thus taking advantage of his amnesia. I shouldn’t have worried because that wasn’t the case at all. Instead this is an honest and sometime brutal look at a long term relationship in free fall and how an act of violence can lead to a reckoning and recovery.
The book begins with a crime. Two men are shot in the parking lot of a gay night-club. One is killed the other injured. The two detectives on the scene are Kate and Bill, newly partnered and hungry for a decent case to get their teeth into. The scene then moves to an expensive house in LA where Robert receives a phone call from the hospital to tell him that his ex-lover, JD, who he still loves deeply, has been beaten and shot. Robert rushes to his bedside only to find that JD cannot remember anything that has happened in the past few years and more importantly is unaware that a year ago he left Robert for good.
The story then follows two consecutive storylines. Firstly we have the ongoing investigation as to who shot JD and killed the young Latino man he was with at the time. Taken mostly from Bill’s point of view, although very occasionally there is the odd paragraph from Kate’s point of view, we see Bill and Kate painstakingly follow each clue, meanwhile battling with the Latino community as they close ranks against them. Kate is an old school cop, brought up on the beat and fighting prejudice at every turn for not only being a woman, but a black woman at that. Despite that she has a wry sense of humour as she tries to figure out what makes Bill tick, solve the crime and organise her upcoming wedding. I liked her a great deal. Bill is a complex character and I never really felt I completely understood his motivations. He has a meticulous attitude to his job, he’s a former alcoholic who acts as a mentor for AA and he’s a closeted gay. His relationship with another gay man, Christopher, was painful to watch as he refuses to get attached and treats Christopher quite appallingly. It was this subplot between Bill and Christopher which gave me very cool feelings about Bill and whilst I admired him for his dedication to the job, I hated him for the way that he acts towards Christopher, even if I could also understand why he acted in that way.
The second storyline is between Robert and JD as we see their relationship as it is now and also see how it was through a series of flashbacks. Thus we are shown how the men meet and then how their relationship progresses throughout the fifteen years they are together. This section is from Robert’s point of view which was quite clever because it means that everything we see is filtered through him. As a result, my sympathies were mostly with Robert and I spent quite a lot of time feeling indignant on his behalf for the way JD treats him, especially as it is obvious that he is deeply in love with JD. As the book progressed I began to see that perhaps Robert isn’t the most reliable of narrators as little details begin to emerge which suggests that the break down in their relationship was not perhaps wholly JD’s fault. This looking back runs alongside the present time as JD recovers from being shot and gradually gets his memory back piece by piece. There’s a tension to this part of the story as Robert knows that once JD regains his memories fully then he will probably want to leave him again. It was difficult to get a real understanding of JD as we see him only from the slightly skewered point of view of Robert. He seems completely self-destructive and needy but I began to question that initial assumption as the book progresses. I found the relationship between these intelligent but flawed men to be utterly compelling, even if I occasionally wanted to cringe from the way they treated each other.
One of the interesting things about reading this book is that it’s one of the earlier AM Riley books, published by Loose Id. This meant that I could see some of Roger Corso from The Elegant Corpse in Bill Turner. It also meant that there were a few flaws in the writing which had been ironed out in later books by this author. There was occasional confusion in the viewpoints and the shifts from present time to flashbacks and back again were sometimes clumsily done, causing me to have to re-read some passages before I knew which time I was in.
I said at the beginning of the review that this is an ambitious book, and I’ll stick by that assertion. With at least four different viewpoints, a wealth of secondary characters, two concurrent plot lines as well as many themes alongside the mystery and romance, then this book could have seemed overcrowded. It wasn’t at all. It was instead a marvellous study in how to effortless interweave several complicated plot threads whilst retaining complex characterisation. I highly recommend Amor En Retrogrado to those readers who like a good mystery and who are interested in reading about two men fighting to prevent a self-destruction of their relationship.