Author: Josh Lanyon
Genre: M/M mystery, romance
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
This ‘painting by numbers’ Josh Lanyon mystery is saved by the usual marvellous prose and an interesting character dynamic in the romantic pairing.
A crippling knee injury forced Elliot Mills to trade in his FBI badge for dusty chalkboards and bored college students. Now a history professor at Puget Sound university, the former agent has put his old life behind him-but it seems his old life isn’t finished with him.
A young man has gone missing from campus-and as a favor to a family friend, Elliot agrees to do a little sniffing around. His investigations bring him face-to-face with his former lover, Tucker Lance, the special agent handling the case.
Things ended badly with Tucker, and neither man is ready to back down on the fight that drove them apart. But they have to figure out a way to move beyond their past and work together as more men go missing and Elliot becomes the target in a killer’s obsessive game…
I’m a huge Josh Lanyon fan and have been ever since I first started reading m/m romance. I love his masterful way with prose, the way he can convey emotion through the flick of an eyelash, and most of all the way that he can put two men in a room and have them run through a whole range of emotion from love to antagonism within a few paragraphs. Having said that, I have to admit I was rather underwhelmed with Fair Game. Usually when reading a JL mystery, I’m glued to the book, unable to put it down until I’ve finished. That wasn’t the case with this book, and it’s taken a bit of thinking to decide quite why I didn’t find this as engaging as I usually do.
The story follows ex-FBI agent Elliot, who has quit the agency after having his knee-cap shot off whilst on active duty. He can’t bear the thought of an FBI desk-job so he’s left to become a history professor at a local college. A friend of his father asks him to try and discover the whereabouts of her runaway son, and along the way Elliot gets pulled into an investigation into another missing college student which brings him into the path of FBI officer and former lover, Tucker.
The main reason that I found it difficult to engage in the story is that I felt that this book was a little too similar to many of the other mysteries I’ve read by this author. Many of JL’s books contain men who feel compelled the dig around into something they have no business doing and end up getting into trouble. On this occasion the story felt tired as I followed the old pattern of: man drawn into mystery; man gets into trouble with the authorities for meddling; man persuades authority figure to help him; man puts his life in danger; man solves mystery through sheer good fortune; the end. Another storyline that JL uses a lot is that of the estranged lovers, forced apart through pride and misunderstanding or circumstance who are brought back together by the mystery. In the case of Tucker, he’s the FBI agent in charge of the investigation into the missing student and he’s none too pleased when old lover Elliot starts poking into his case. Thus Elliot and Tucker have a number of ‘stay out of my case’ telephone conversations, the likes of which I’ve read many times in various other JL mysteries. Those readers who haven’t read many Josh Lanyon mysteries will probably not feel the same ennui that I did about the story in this book.
Having said that, this book was still a four star read for me. This is mainly because of JL’s impeccable prose coupled with the sympathetic character of Elliot. Elliot is recovering from his injury, and trying to cope with a relatively staid life in academia. I liked the way that Elliot veers between liking and hating his job, coping with the indignity and weakness of his shattered and repaired knee, and the longing he still feels for his time in the FBI. In many ways this story is Elliot’s journey from the FBI to an acceptance of his life now, and part of that acceptance is reconciling with former lover Tucker. I liked Tucker too, what we got to know of him through Elliot’s closed third person point of view. The part of their relationship that I liked best was that it was tough guy Tucker who was perhaps the most affected and emotional over their original split – a nice changeover from what often happens in a JL romance. I also liked the way that my sympathies shifted between the pair where one minute I felt sorry for the way Tucker has treated Elliot and the next my sympathies were with Tucker before shifting again. The only part which troubled me about the relationship between Tucker and Elliot is that a number of their conversations happen over the telephone which I found quite distancing, but that’s probably just because I like my characters to be facing each other when discussing difficult emotional situations.
Another part which also worked was in the portrayal of academic life with its different types of students and professors. There were a number of little touches to the life of an academic which put this above the average in terms of additional details surrounding the main character and which all added to the characterisation. There was a lot of incidental humour in Elliot’s life as professor and his relations with staff and students as well as an accurate portrayal of the frustrations of life in academia which all added to the realism of the story. Elliot’s relationship to his dad was also a plus point to the story, especially in relation to his job, and his father’s left-wing politics.
Characterisation is always a strong point in any Josh Lanyon book and it didn’t disappoint here. If you’re looking for a book which is filled with great characters and lots of good detail then you can’t go wrong with this book. I enjoyed reading it, even if I did find it a little formulaic, and Fair Game will probably appeal to fans as well as new Josh Lanyon readers.