Title: Loving Luki Vasquez (Vasquez & James #1)
Author: Lou Sylvre
Cover artist: Reese Dante
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Buy Link Loving Luki Vasquez
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance/Mystery/Suspense
Length: Novel/68,950 words/220 PDF pages
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by LadyM
Review summary: Romance between two likable protagonists that worked and mystery that didn’t.
Blurb: Reclusive weaver Sonny Bly James controls every color and shape in his tapestries, but he can’t control the pattern of his life — a random encounter with Luki Vasquez, ex-ATF agent and all-around badass, makes that perfectly clear. The mutual attraction is immediate, but love-shy Sonny has retreated from life, and Luki wears his visible and not-so-visible scars like armor. Neither can bare his soul with ease.
While they run from desire, they can’t hide from the evil that hunts them. After it becomes clear that a violent stalker has targeted Sonny, Luki’s protective instincts won’t let him run far, especially when Sonny’s family is targeted as well. Whether they can forgive or forget, Sonny and Luki will have to call a truce and work together to save Sonny’s nephew and fight an enemy intent on making sure loving Luki Vasquez is the last mistake Sonny will ever make.
Vasquez & James Series
There were several things that attracted me to Loving Luki Vasquez. I love discovering new authors, especially within one of my favorite genres. Which brings me to the second reason — I simply cannot pass a detective story/mystery in any shape or form (yes, yes, I said that before!). The fact that one of the protagonists was a weaver — not something you encounter every day in m/m romance — only piqued my curiosity. And, finally, there is that cover. It’s one of the best covers I’ve seen this year. All this said, since I started reviewing for this site, this was probably the hardest rating decision I had to make.
The book is a blend of romance and mystery/suspense and while romance worked very well, the mystery part failed at the end of the book, in spite of the promising setup. I suspect that the readers’ enjoyment in the novel will depend on what they value and enjoy more. The protagonists were complex and sympathetic, although many elements of their background stories were left unexplored. The writing was very good, which made my decision on the final rating even more difficult. But, let’s start from the beginning.
When Sonny Bly James meets Luki Vasquez, the attraction between them is instantaneous. Of course, things aren’t that simple. Sonny is 29-year-old professional weaver, recluse by choice, socially awkward, shy, inexperienced and afraid of getting hurt. Beside his nephew Deslyn, who comes and goes every few weeks, and Margie, local coffee shop owner, there aren’t many people he interacts with. He is also a gentle, loving man, who sees the beauty in the world around him and recreates it in his works. He is a keen observer, something that helps him see behind Luki’s cold exterior. Luki Vasquez is a different side of the same coin. He is a 41-year-old former ATF agent, now owner of his own, successful security agency. He might not be hiding in the remote house with no cell phone service like Sonny, but he is hiding none the less — behind aloof, cold attitude, expensive suits, immaculate grooming, his guns and knifes. The trauma from his youth left scars both on his face and his soul and intimacy and true affection are something he, at the same time, craves and fears. Considering their personalities, the progress of the relationship was realistic: from initial, almost autistic interactions, the first intimacy prompted by outside forces to misunderstandings, heartaches and acceptance. It is in the realm of romance, emotions and descriptions of Sonny’s art that this author’s writing shines. The scene when Luki wants to end the relationship and breaks both Sonny’s and his own heart in the process was heart-wrenching. The sex scenes between these two men were among the best I’ve read this year, possibly longer. There were very few of them and the author made sure that each and every one counted. The gentleness and sensuality were simply beautiful. And Sonny and Luki are beautifully flawed characters and you can’t help but like them even when you want to hit them.
As I already said, some things from the protagonists’ backgrounds were left unexplained and unexplored. Sonny is a Native American (Yakama Nation), but his heritage plays no part whatsoever in the book. In fact, it was just mentioned a few times in passing. Luki’s mixed heritage — Hawaiian and Basque — also had no role in the book. Sonny’s academic background was just mentioned. More importantly, how and where did Sonny learn to drive muscle cars like Nikki Lauda? While Luki’s past was explored in more depth, mainly because it was an important part of the mystery plot, there were still huge chunks of it that were left in the dark (his ATF background, his agency). I suspect that these ‘blanks’ will play the part in the future sequel(s) of the novel.
The secondary characters can be divided in three groups: the types, the props and the villain. The types, like Margie or teenagers used in the crimes, were painted in broad strokes but with sufficient skill to engage the reader’s emotions (I think Josh and Jackie will especially break some hearts). Luki’s employees and former colleagues a.k.a. “the props” were simply the tools used to provide necessary information and help to the protagonists and move the story on. The villain… The villain brings me to he part of the book that didn’t work for me — the mystery.
One of the main elements that separate the mystery (in all its incarnations) from any other genre is reader’s participation. We don’t read mysteries for Sherlock’s violin playing, Poirot’s dashing mustache or Adrien’s bookstore. We read them to follow the detectives around, to learn what they learn and, possibly, solve the case together with them. Even if the reader doesn’t want to exercise his or hers little grey cells, there should be that “a-ha, that’s what happened” moment of recognition — the payoff for playing along — at the end of the story. That means that the clues necessary for solving the case, no matter how veiled or hidden, should be provided within the plot. In Loving Luki Vasquez the author withheld crucial information from the readers until the last 40 – 50 pages of the novel. Although the villain’s name was mentioned once before that point, there were absolutely no clues that could rationally lead to the perpetrator. The man to whom the clues rationally did lead turned out to be the big, fat, red herring.
As a consequence, what, up to that moment, seemed like carefully set up mystery completely fell apart. Frankly, when Luki’s reaction to the big reveal was something like “Oh, I sort of knew that” I wanted to explode from frustration. It would be nice if the readers were given some hint about it. Another consequence was the cartoony, over-the-top villain. You know, one of those guys with maniacal laughter and “I’m evil” T-shirt. I’m kidding, but you catch the drift. And, I won’t say more to avoid spoilers.
I had a few minor niggles as well, like some decisions Luki— an experienced agent — made, the overuse of word ice (icicle, icy) for describing Luki, etc., but they really weren’t that important.
Overall, Loving Luki Vasquez was well-written, emotionally charged love story with sympathetic protagonists that I really liked. The mystery, tightly intertwined with romance, didn’t work for me, but I am only one reader. If you are reading for romance alone, you will definitely enjoy this book. Will I read another Lou Sylvre’s book, including another Sonny/Luki book? Absolutely. The quality of writing alone guarantees that. This one in its entirety, however, gets 3.5 stars (recommended with some reservations).