Summary Review: A disappointment.
**this review contains what could be considered spoilers**
Beauty is only skin deep…until love reveals what lies beneath.
As mob boss Yvgeny Mosko’s open secret, Dylan Anderson is happy enough with a passionate, if loveless, arrangement that affords him a life of luxury. But at thirty-six, he wonders how committed Mosko will be to an aging lover.He finds out when a rival gang kidnaps him in a turf war everyone’s sure to lose. Mosko unleashes deadly force, leaving no one alive except for a young man whose dark eyes tug at Dylan’s heart—and the conscience he thought he’d excised long ago.Though he tried to stop the kidnapping, William “Memo” Escobar knows Mosko will use what’s left of him to send a powerful message to his rivals.
When Mosko’s pampered pretty boy risks everything to help him escape, he can’t believe his luck. William figures he’s better suited to life off the grid, but as the days go by he begins to realize Dylan’s beauty is more than skin deep. And as Dylan coaxes more and more beguiling smiles from William, he yearns for things—like family ties—he’d thought were best forgotten.
Yet behind their newfound happiness lurks the certain knowledge that no matter how careful they are, Mosko will come for what’s his.
This is the first book by ZA Maxfield that didn’t get a passing grade from me. I was very disappointed with the story and I had a number of issues. I even re-read it to see if I could have been mistaken, but no such luck. Let me start at the beginning.
Dylan was the “boy” of Russian drug czar Yves Mosko. They had been together for over a decade and Yves was only the second man with whom Dylan had had sex. The first was a boyhood friend to whom he lost his virginity one night when they were on a mission for their church, but the next day it was all over because Peter rejected him and confessed what had happened to his parents who were members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. He submitted to a Christian conversion by his Bishop to “take the gay out of him” but Dylan refused to do so and his parents kicked him out. Dylan left Utah and ended up in LA where he worked at detailing cars, which is where Yves spotted him. Yves was so taken with Dylan’s beauty that despite the problems it would pose for him in terms of his status within the organization, to have an openly gay relationship, he had to have Dylan. Yves loved Dylan despite the fact that he was married and Dylan cared for him in return.
One day as Dylan was going home from the spa where he had his weekly treatments he was kidnapped by a rival gang who beat him up and threw him in the trunk of his Lexus, obviously intending to use him as a bargaining chip with Yves if he didn’t die first. Things didn’t work out quite the way they expected and the abductors were gunned down by Yves’s men, except for the youngest member of the gang, 20 year old William “Memo” Escobar who had tried to save Dylan from the most serious blows.
When Dylan and William were taken to Yves’s home Dylan’s severe injuries were treated but there was no sign of William. No one would give Dylan any information and he realized that they intended to kill William to send a message to Yves’s rivals. Dylan could not allow this to happen but had no idea what to do since he was himself seriously hurt. After demanding to see William the next evening, one of the guards let Dylan into the shed where he was kept and his condition was appalling. Dylan was determined to rescue him and he devised a plan but realized that if he left it would mean the end of his relationship with Yves, because it would be a severe breach of trust. The plan worked but I won’t give you the details because you should experience it for yourself.
After Dylan and William left Yves’s estate Dylan returned to Utah, where they stayed at a seedy motel for a couple of days. However William was very sick and Dylan knew that without medical assistance he would die, so he took him to the nearest clinic over his strenuous objections. To his surprise Peter, his old buddy, was a doctor at the clinic and it was obvious he was still mad at him for leaving all those years ago but also he still he wanted Dylan.
What didn’t work for me
Dylan’s decision to take off with William who he didn’t even know, and leave his luxurious, pampered lifestyle behind. Although it was a foregone conclusion that William would be killed if they didn’t escape, Dylan was almost as severely injured as William yet they managed to escape from a heavily guarded compound without alarming anyone. The escape caper had a lot of holes.
Dylan’s characterization: He kept himself aloof from the seamier side of Yves’s operations but he must have known how he made his money to be able to afford his lifestyle – he just refused to acknowledge anything that was unpleasant. It was William who filled him in on all the nasty stuff – prostitution, drugs etc.
The romance: Dylan was described as shades of gray inside his shades of gray. I guess that means that nothing touched him. William on the other hand was black and white and lived his life with his eyes wide open. These two protagonists seemed ill suited to be in a romantic situation and Dylan’s and William’s personalities just didn’t seem compatible, other than when having sex.
All of the references to the size of William’s penis which apparently was so big his brothers thought he could have a career in porn.
Dylan’s dream sequences.
Yves characterization was not credible. This man was a mob boss whose lieutenants were vicious killers and he had to be seen by them as well as rival gangs as the toughest hombre in town, to make up for being gay, a character trait that could get a man killed in his line of business. He was full of pride, reinforced his tough reputation at every turn, had his men kill at the drop of a hat, believed in saving face at all costs, yet in the end he turned out to be soft. I understood why the author made him do what he did but I couldn’t buy it, regardless how much he loved Dylan because self preservation was something Yves valued above all else.
What worked for me
Scott, the former Church of Latter Day Saints Bishop for whom Dylan worked when he returned to Utah. He was a good man and didn’t let his religion blind him to seeing the best in others.
Peter’s characterization: He was a jerk and a coward but at least he was consistent. He hated being gay but loved Dylan. In the end he almost got his family killed because he wanted to get rid of William so that he could have Dylan.
William at 20 seemed very mature and his character was well drawn. Even though Dylan was 37, at times William seemed to be the more mature of the pair while Dylan was still trying to figure out what to do with his life.
Ernesto and Esme, Scott’s helper and cook, were definitely three dimensional and a great couple.
Dylan’s twin Des who loved her brother and would do anything for him, including standing up to her husband.
The writing was vintage ZAM and at times it shone. The scenery in Utah and Wyoming was breathtaking and I could feel and taste why Dylan called Utah home – it was so beautiful.
The sex between Dylan and William was very hot.
I found the book to be confusing, I thought that a few of the characters were not well drawn, and the plot was not credible for me.
This review and rating will definitely be in the minority because I have seen a few 3’s but many 4s and 5s on Goodreads. I would suggest that you read the book as your experience may be quite different to mine. I’m a fan of this author since I reviewed her first book Crossing Borders and I love her characters but this book had too many inconsistencies IMO.
The Pharaoh’s Concubine would be of interest to fans of ZA Maxfield and readers looking for a different type of story.