Title: Clean Slate
Author: Aleksandr Voinov and Barbara Sheridan
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: M/M/M Contemporary, action/adventure romance
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
A non-stop action piece with interesting characters which, although not without fault, would be attractive for fans of ménage and action/adventure books.
The assassination Chris Gibson and John Soong are sent to carry out doesn’t go quite as planned. They arrive at the location to find their target, Russian mob affiliate Andrei Voronin, has already been shot and is barely clinging to life. Making a judgment call, John contacts his superiors, who agree that Voronin may be more valuable to them alive than dead.
The new plan is for John and Chris to pose as Andrei’s lovers until the amnesiac recovers his memory. Their task takes an unexpected turn when the agents bond with Andrei, clash with one another, and have to outwit the Russian mob who discover that Andrei is still alive.
John and Chris work as assassins for a mysterious agency called GORGON, which is one of those institutions which works outside of the law. They are currently in Monaco, where their latest assignment is to neutralise a Russian, Andrei. Things go terribly wrong though when their target is shot in the head and badly injured before they can get to him themselves. Instead of finishing Andrei off, the men decide to try and save him and then see whether he will switch sides and work for them. When Andrei comes round he discovers that he has amnesia and spends the rest of the book struggling both with rediscovering his own identity and with his growing feelings for John and Chris.
I have to admit I’ve had a bit of mixed response to this book. On one hand, I appreciated that it was well written and contained some interesting ideas and characters, but on the other hand I was a little disappointed by the second half of the book.
Let’s start with the positives. One thing I particularly liked about the way that the story was written was that each other the three men had an individual voice, especially between Andrei and the two assassins. The initial set up is interesting: John and Chris are opposites, in that John favours long term relationships and Chris is a bit of a man-whore, and that Chris is an American and John is British. As the book begins, John has recently split up from his long term partner, paving the way for Chris to make moves on John. This causes no end of antagonism at first, as John is not willing to be another one of Chris’ conquests. Things are further complicated when John is able to bond better with Andrei than Chris is. This meant that the first section of the book was a good mix of character dynamics, relationship problems and plausible drama. The first section is also very static, all taking place in the same house, which lent a claustrophobic feel to the book which worked well. I read through this section quickly, eager to find out how the differences in character and temperament would play out between the men.
Another aspect of the first part of the book which worked well was the way Andrei’s amnesia is handled. In fact, I found the parts where we see things from his point of view: the disorientation; the frustration; and the sense of never really knowing about yourself, were some of the better written parts of the book. I sympathised with Andrei, especially because I knew that Chris was taking advantage of him and playing on Andrei’s lack of knowledge about himself. Despite the fact that we are never quite sure whether Andrei is the enemy or not, I found him to be the most interesting character out of the three men. John was another character I liked a great deal. His quiet manner and gentle treatment of Andrei endeared him to me, and I liked the tenderness that grew between them.
The point at which I started having a few problems with the book came when the men moved from the safety of the house into the city of Monaco. There was a shift at that point from what had been quite an unusual ménage relationship drama into an all-action plot. After the static quietness of the first half of the book this came as rather a jolt and the two halves didn’t sit well with me. As the second half of the book progressed, the story became more and more unrealistic with bad guys popping up all over the place and gun fights which could never have happened in real life. In some ways it was just like an action film where the hero miraculously manages to escape unscathed or only partly injured in a gun fight which should have left him dead. Although the action sequences were well paced, I felt that it was slightly over the top, and overblown. The relationship between the men takes on more of an urgency at this point too and goes from a slow seduction to what seemed a too quick resolution and declaration of love. One minute the men feared or disliked each other and the next we are told that actually they loved each other all along. It didn’t work for me, and I felt that all the gentleness of the first half and the gradual build up of feelings had been lost because of the need to force a HEA.
Another part which didn’t work so well for me was in the big reveal at the end. Obviously, I can’t be too specific about this because I don’t want to give away spoilers. Even after going back and re-reading some of the scenes again, the big reveal didn’t seem logical, not written as it was in the 3rd person where we get to read the thoughts of the characters. Perhaps if the story had been written with a closed 3rd person narrative or even as a objective 3rd person, where we get none of the characters’ thoughts, it would have worked better. As it is I felt as though the characters had deliberately misled me, lied to me by omission, which only would have worked if I hadn’t been given such a detailed insight into their thoughts throughout the story.
Despite my mixed reaction to Clean Slate, it was still on the whole a good read. I liked the first half a great deal, liked the characters and thought the initial situation interesting and unusual. This book would probably appeal to those looking for a quick, easy read with a mix of high action and quieter romantic moments.