A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: This impressive, dark, deeply engrossing read featured one of the most tortured heroes and some of the meanest villains I’ve ever met.
***Warning: This book contains graphic violence, violence during sex and on-page dub-con sex***
The Blurb: John Griffin has fallen hopelessly in love. He’s trying to hide it, because the man he loves is also his partner in a renegade counterterrorism agency, and John loves the job too. Michael, the most loyal of friends and partners, doesn’t return John’s passion. Nor that of anyone else, as far as John can see. Sexy and handsome as hell, Mike is a chained-up man, haunted by memories of a mission gone wrong during his time in Russia for MI5. Their one sexual encounter only drives them apart: Mike’s guilt has left him needing a violence John isn’t prepared to deliver.
Enter Anzhel Mattvei, a charismatic secret-service agent who held Mike captive in Russia and has now apparently changed sides. The psychological programming he instilled soon has Mike in sexual thraldom, fighting for possession of his will and his soul. Only John’s love can call him back from the brink. The Russian war criminal Anzhel serves has hidden a nuclear device in London, and Anzhel has set Mike up to detonate it. John must find a way to help Mike overcome his programming, or millions of lives will be the price.
The Review: The story opens with a prologue of sorts, where we first meet Michael , then a MI5 agent fallen prisoner to Russian war criminal Lukas Oriel. We witness Michael’s brainwashing and conditioning by Oriel’s “left-hand-man”, unearthly beautiful Anzhel Mattvei, under whose cruel hands even orgasms turn into torture and punishment.
Fast forward three years, and Michael is back in London, working for a super-secret British agency only known as Last Line. His partner John “Griff” Griffin is deeply in lust and love with him, but so far Mike has firmly rejected all advances. Thus John must make do with being the best possible partner and friend to Mike, seeking sexual relief in numerous anonymous encounters which still can never satisfy him.
Aside from work, John also spends most of his days off with Mike, helping him rebuild his grandfather’s old farm at the foot of the Glastonbury Tor. In turn, Mike lends John a sympathetic ear whenever John’s kid brother and ward, Quin(tus), has managed to make trouble for himself again with running away from yet another boarding school.
Their so-far-so good stable partnership suffers the first cracks when John and Mike are assigned to hunt down Lukas Oriel, who is rumored to have gone to ground in London after his hiding spot in the Russian province of Zemelya had been destroyed. Oriel allegedly now runs a drug ring which Mike and John are supposed to infiltrate. Michael’s mother was from Zemelya, which was the reason why MI5 originally sent him after Oriel, and which is what predestines him for this assignment in the eyes of Last Line’s commander. But Last Line also expects them to work together with converted agent Anzhel Mattvei.
In the presence of Mattvei, Michael changes. John can only look on helplessly as Mike drifts apart from him, turning into a hostile stranger who is obviously completely under Mattvei’s spell — body, mind and soul. However, blinded by jealousy and anger, John doesn’t recognize the true nature of Mike’s obsession with Mattvei at first. Once he does, it is almost too late. Suddenly it’s not only about himself and Mike anymore, but Quin also gets swept up in the matter. And if John doesn’t manage to break Mattvei’s spell, if John can’t recapture Mike’s mind — and Mike’s soul — London may very well go up in flames.
This book took me, first by surprise, and then by storm.
The surprise came, for one, because at first I wasn’t prepared for the paranormal element (overlooked the label — my fault), which was present right from the beginning, growing stronger and stronger throughout the story without ever being explained. I kept wondering the entire time what the sam hill those guys were supposed to be, anyway, until — surprise number two — I chanced upon a post on Goodreads where I learned that Last Line is actually the first book in a series, a fact both the blurb and the labeling fail to reveal. However, once these particular bulbs went on in my head, I could accept the loose threads as the cliffhangers they are — and really good ones at that, since all the secretiveness has me on the edge of my seat now, waiting for the sequel. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Apparently, Mattvei’s brainwashing has turned Michael into a “sleeper”, a seemingly normal person who, by means of a conditioned stimulus, can be triggered to do something completely against their nature. While “sleepers” are usually completely oblivious to their programming right until they push the crucial button, Michael is not, thanks to his special resilience (one of said loose threads); at times, he realizes that what he does isn’t like him, but he still can’t help doing it anyway, a fact which only adds to his brokenness. Many aspects of this inner disunity came clear in his interactions with John, as well as through John’s observations of Michael.
The slow process of realization John goes through was painfully intense to watch. With regard to both heroes, the characterization was show, not tell to near-perfection. Anzhel and Oriel were well-wrought too — I hated both of them with a vengeance, especially Anzhel for what he’d done to Mike.
Although I couldn’t quite figure out WHY, at least in Anzhel’s case. Just as well, since there ought to be something left for the sequel, after all.
The above mentioned taking by storm actually didn’t happen until the second half of the story, where the book picks up speed. Boy, does it ever. The action sequences get faster and more furious during the later parts, until by the end we’re in a honest-to-God shootout-showdown complete with bullet-riddled cars and a house blown to bits and pieces.
Unfortunately, this is also where my niggles come in — toward the end, the action-laden plot became a little too cryptic to be explained away with cliffhangers, at least for me. I also had a problem with Mike’s behavior. After all the buildup of earlier, the solution came so quick you could blink once and miss it. To me, it appeared too easy. However, these issues were small enough they didn’t have much influence on my overall enjoyment of the story.
This book had me oblivious to the world for the better part of a sunny afternoon; it lingered in my memory long after I’d finished it.
I only wished someone had warned me about the series thing beforehand since I’d have waited for the sequel so I could’ve read them in one go. Now I’m biting my nails off with curiosity.