Title & buy link: (Cole McGinnis #1)
Author: Rhys Ford
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Genre: M/M contemporary detective mystery, diverse
Length: Novel (225 pages)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: A sexy, exciting detective novel with a witty and sympathetic narrator, a solid mystery plot, and fantastic writing.
Cole Kenjiro McGinnis, ex-cop and PI, is trying to get over the shooting death of his lover when a supposedly routine investigation lands in his lap. Investigating the apparent suicide of a prominent Korean businessman’s son proves to be anything but ordinary, especially when it introduces Cole to the dead man’s handsome cousin, Kim Jae-Min.
Jae-Min’s cousin had a dirty little secret, the kind that Cole has been familiar with all his life and that Jae-Min is still hiding from his family. The investigation leads Cole from tasteful mansions to seedy lover’s trysts to Dirty Kiss, the place where the rich and discreet go to indulge in desires their traditional-minded families would rather know nothing about.
It also leads Cole McGinnis into Jae-Min’s arms, and that could be a problem. Jae-Min’s cousin’s death is looking less and less like a suicide, and Jae-Min is looking more and more like a target. Cole has already lost one lover to violence—he’s not about to lose Jae-Min too.
We first meet half Irish, half Japanese private investigator Cole when he’s running for his life away from a shotgun-wielding, scantily-clad grandmother. Yes you read that right 😆 and it made a real impression on me too! The whole opening sequence of this book had me laughing and it’s definitely one of the freshest and funniest beginnings of anything I’ve read in recent months.
Cole gets home to find his attorney brother, Mike, waiting for him. Mike asks Cole to look into the apparent suicide of the son of one of Mike’s clients. The client swears that his son, Kim Hyun-Shik, was a good and dutiful husband and father who wouldn’t have killed himself. The place where Hyun-Shik was found dead is a gay club/brothel called Dirty Kiss that caters specifically to wealthy Koreans. Cole, an ex-cop, has been to the place before when he worked Vice, and he’s not surprised to learn that Hyun-Shik’s father is denying that his son was gay. Cole’s father is also in denial, and this has split the family. He hasn’t been home in years because his father won’t accept him.
Cole goes to interview the Kim family and meets Hyun-Shik’s cousin, Jae-Min. Jae-Min is absolutely gorgeous and – as Cole discovers thanks to the hateful words of Jae-Min’s grieving aunt – he’s also gay. Jae-Min tells Cole that in their family, it’s better to be a suicide than to be gay. Cole is attracted to Jae-Min but also genuinely likes him and feels relaxed in his company. This scares Cole a little. Three years previously, both Cole and his lover Rick were gunned down by a man they both knew and trusted. Rick died, and Cole is still trying to come to terms with what happened. The experience has scarred him physically and emotionally, and he finds it hard to get close to people and to open his heart.
Trying to stay professional, he shows Jae-Min the suicide letter, and Jae-Min notes inconsistencies in the phrasing that suggest that maybe things aren’t as they seem.
Cole’s next stop is Dirty Kiss, where he has an old acquaintance from his days on Vice. Beautiful crossdressing singer Scarlet tells him that Hyun-Shik’s father bought membership for his son, hoping that if he had a safe place to ‘dabble’ with his homosexuality then the rest of the time he’d be a good dutiful son and uphold the family honour. She also tells him that Hyun-Shik’s favourite boy at the club was Yi Jin-Sang. When Cole spots a photo of Jae-Min in Scarlet’s dressing room, he’s shocked to discover that Hyuk-Shin brought his cousin to the club – not as a guest, but to work as part of the entertainment.
Cole goes to talk to Jin-Sang and spots Jae-Min’s car outside. Then his investigation takes a horrifically serious turn and it becomes clear that Hyuk-Shin’s death was murder, not suicide. Worse still, the murderer is now after Jae-Min. Cole is thrown back to traumatic memories of his lover’s death, but he’s too entangled with Jae-Min to walk away even if he wasn’t already invested in solving the case. As Cole continues digging, soon his own life is threatened. Now it’s personal, and Cole is determined to uncover the truth and find the murderer before time runs out for him and Jae-Min…
Dirty Kiss grabbed my attention from the first page and didn’t let go until I’d finished reading. I only meant to read the first couple of chapters and suddenly it was almost midnight and I was 25 pages from the end. I was completely hooked!
First person narrative doesn’t always work for me, but it’s such a staple of P.I. stories, and the author plays on the genre’s tropes with great skill. Cole has a dry wit and timely sense of humour which carries throughout the story’s pacing. I loved his outlook on life and the way he interacts with everyone, from even the most minor character right through to the beautiful, wary Jae-Min.
All of the characters, even the walk-ons, are fully realized. I particularly liked Cole’s mouthy office manager, Claudia – she’s hilarious – and his former cop friend Bobby, who’d remained closeted while he was in the service and came out when he retired. Bobby helped put Cole back together again after Rick’s death, and their easy friendship is a delight to read. I also loved the relationship between Cole and Mike. They love each other as siblings but still fight. Mike is brutally honest with his emotions in one scene, and though it’s painful, Cole can deal with it more than he can deal with his father’s disapproving silence.
Cole’s memories and thoughts of Rick are a constant throughout the book, shifting slowly as he deals with the grief and guilt and as he falls in love with Jae-Min and faces the reality of a new relationship. The handling and pacing of this was excellent, and the same goes for the slow revelation of Jae-Min’s backstory.
I also appreciated the culturally-sensitive portrayal of Jae-Min and his family, which brought into contrast Cole’s own heritage. Although he’s half-Japanese, he hasn’t seen his mother’s family and doesn’t really think that much about his ethnicity. Yet both men are outsiders from their families because they’re gay.
The love scenes are seriously hot. I loved the connection between Cole and Jae-Min, the way neither of them can fully trust one another at first but they need and desire one another. They’re really sexy together. Also, they acknowledge that their relationship needs a lot of effort to make it work – there’s no Big Misunderstandings here, these are two guys who think and talk about what they want!
Dirty Kiss offers a solid detective story with lots of twists and turns, great cliff-hanger chapter endings that made me read on, and plenty of suspects and motives. The ending snuck up on me very fast and I was sad when the story was over! Though it ends in a satisfactory conclusion for this particular mystery, Cole and Jae-Min’s relationship is only just beginning. Fortunately this is the start of a series so we have more to look forward to in future books. This is an excellent read and I thoroughly recommend it.