Author: Ethan Stone
Cover Artist: Justin James
Buy Link Kindle: Flesh & Blood
Buy Link Paperback: Flesh & Blood
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary M/M, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Novel (240 pages, word count unlisted)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
A guest review by Buda
Summary Review: The continuation of Cristian Flesh’s story finds him investigating a case that forces him to confront the many demons of his past. Cristian, the man of many rules, may be forced to break them all before he finds peace.
Sequel to In the Flesh
Detective Cristian Flesh is about to find out that he can only run from his past for so long.
When a local man is attacked and the suspect is a hustler, Cristian knows there’s more to the case than meets the eye. His investigation will lead him into a maze of lies, deceit, and underage prostitution. But that’s only the beginning as people start disappearing and turning up dead. Cristian begins to realize that solving the case and stopping the murders won’t be enough. If he wants to make his new life with lawyer Colby Maddox work, he’ll need to face the demons of his past and put them to rest once and for all.
As with any really good sequel, this one finds its genesis in the dangling threads of the previous work. Accordingly, Flesh & Blood should be read only after experiencing In the Flesh, my review of which can be found here.
Christian Flesh and his partner Lex Luther are sent to investigate the assault on Clayton Shaw, a very wealthy casino owner, who was badly beaten with his own cane. An interview with Shaw’s brother at the hospital is Cristian’s first clue that this case will take him places he doesn’t want to go. It seems Shaw’s young step-nephew, Austin, just eighteen, had told his parents he was gay. They encouraged Austin to talk to Clayton about how to be a gay man in this hetero-centric world. Unfortunately for Austin, Clayton Shaw was more interested in getting the young man into bed than being his mentor. Austin is immediately the prime suspect, something Cristian hopes is only temporary. When the Crime Scene lead tells Flesh and Luther she has matched prints on the weapon to an underage hustler, Flesh braces himself. “Right then, I knew the trail we were going down was most likely going to lead me straight into my past.”
Indeed it does. The first two thirds of the book see Flesh, Luther and FBI agent Drew Bradley trying to find enough evidence to take down a ring of pedophiles, but the entire novel is really about Flesh dealing with his past. We know pretty early who the bad guys are, though it takes a bit to find out who is the baddest of the bad, so Flesh & Blood isn’t a true mystery in that sense. It is very much a personal journey for Cristian. For the man with more than a dozen rules, who had kept his life neat and orderly and emotion-free until Colby came along, this trip down memory lane is painful. But will healing come with the pain? It is what he hopes and you’ll have to read to find out how close he comes.
The last third of the book finds Cristian confronting his family. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for the healing-old-wounds-with-family story line, but I found this to be the strongest part of the book. It isn’t necessarily an easy read, because we find out here a lot of truly horrific things about Cristian’s past. But meeting Cristian’s brother, Chucky, and seeing Colby at work in the courtroom were bonuses.
Cristian and Colby are settled in their relationship, so the romantic storyline, if you will, is almost non-existent. That is not to say Colby isn’t there to support Cris on his emotional journey, because he definitely is–whenever Cris will let him in. There is a lot–a lot–of sex in the book. It was almost overwhelming, but you will remember sex is the vehicle Cristian uses to deal with his emotional turmoil, so it makes sense. Those of you who have read Ethan Stone’s work before will know that the man writes scorching hot sex. That hasn’t changed here.
Several times we see Cristian act with his heart and not with his head, which was one of my “Did Not Work” items from In the Flesh. Well, even if those instances seem like something he shouldn’t be doing, they are definitely in keeping with his character. First, when he talks to Austin Shaw about the attack on his uncle, Cristian does it alone, in Austin’s bedroom (Austin’s parents are with Lex in the living room downstairs) and assures the kid he will be there to help him out. Definitely more heart than big head here, but it works because it is Cristian, and he’s feeling the abuse Austin suffered at the hands of his uncle. Second, while searching for the suspect in the Shaw beating, Cristian stumbles upon a young hustler at a truck stop. After talking to him for a bit, our good-hearted hero buys the kid a bus ticket home. There’s nothing out of character here (he throws a gruff I’m-a-bad-ass warning in along with the ticket), but it shows Cristian’s heart again. Earlier, when Lex is ribbing Cristian about letting his emotions get involved, Cristian says, “Yeah, I could be considered too stupid to live based on those actions. Sometimes I think with my heart and not my head.” I had to laugh. Touche, Ethan!
I did have a couple of niggles. The book seems occasionally dialogue-heavy and I felt, in a couple of the early scenes, as if I were being told, not shown.
Overall, Flesh & Blood was a good read. I admit to liking it better the second time through, but I think I might not have sufficiently cleansed my reading palate before starting it the first time. The characters and characterizations I enjoyed so much in In the Flesh are all here. Gabe, once again, has an important role, which may foreshadow events in his own spin-off, Blood & Tears, due out in July or August. The pacing of Flesh & Blood is slower than In the Flesh, so I didn’t feel like I was hitting a Formula 1 track this time. If you are a fan of Ethan Stone’s work, In the Flesh specifically, I easily recommend reading Flesh & Blood.