Title: Six Degrees of Lust (By Degrees #1)
Author: Taylor V. Donovan
Cover artist: Deana C. Jamroz
Publisher: MLR Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Length: Novel/393 PDF pages/118,000 words
Genre: M/M Romance/Mystery
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by LadyM
Review summary: Ambitious novel that goes in all directions and never quite makes it to any destination.
Blurb: New York City FBI team leader Samuel Shaughnessy lives for his immediate family and his job. After a marriage gone wrong he has stuck to a firm rule when it comes to relationships: he doesn’t have them. Sexually active and emotionally unavailable keeps him satisfied, especially now that he is in hot pursuit of a serial killer targeting gay men.
Former firefighter Machlan O’Bannon now manages a successful sports bar in Houston and after years of waiting he’s ready to stand up and be the man he always wanted to be: out, proud and drama-free. His politically-aligned family wants to keep him locked in the closet, but Mac just wants to meet the man of his dreams.
One man is as high strung as the other is laid back. A chance meeting brings the two men together, and one night of passion ignites a fire neither can fight. Their lives are not only miles apart, but as different as day and night.
By Degrees Series
After reading Heatstroke from the Hot Summer Days anthology several months ago, I jumped to the opportunity to read and review Taylor V. Donovan’s first longer work. A romance with a dash of mystery? It should have been perfect for me. Unfortunately, Six Degrees of Lust doesn’t quite live up to the expectations amazing Heatstroke awoke. Also, the very short Southern Winterland precedes this novel, but it is not necessary for you to read it. It is a snippet about two secondary characters from this novel and it may clarify a few things for you, but the events of this story are recounted in the novel. Personally, that short only added to my frustration.
Let’s start with the things that didn’t work. The author starts many story lines and subplots without actually ending any one of them. There is a romance between Sam and Mac, then the mystery of the serial killer who preys on gay men, Sam’s situation with his abused sister and nephew who may or may not be gay and his ex-wife, Mac’s family situation, numerous potential and not so potential couples (like Remy and Chris), etc. None of these plots and subplots are resolved and if you want to know how they end you have to read (and pay for) the next installments. I understand that this is the first book in the series, the set up piece (the author introduces us to numerous secondary characters who will play bigger roles in the future books), but not to resolve anything made for a very frustrating experience. Although the book concentrates on the two men, it is actually an “ensemble” novel, following the group of people who are friends, family, friends of friends, acquaintances – separated by six degrees from the title. It is not bad by any stretch of imagination and I enjoyed parts of it quite a lot, but, like I said, reading it was a frustrating experience and, in my opinion, this was the biggest flaw of this book.
The second biggest flaw of the novel is representation of women. While they are, naturally, secondary characters, they are, frankly, all bitches (I can’t come up with the term that is less offensive and encompasses everything these women are). Gabi (Sam’s ex), Sandy (his sister), Amy (Mac’s former childhood friend), and Mac’s mother are bigoted, unreasonable, uncaring and I hated them all. Gabi still has some chance of redeeming herself, but the rest of them… no. There is no decent female character with any significant page time in the book and, I must say, I am getting tired of this in M/M books. There is no reason strong, three-dimensional gay characters cannot coexist with three-dimensional female characters.
As a mystery/police procedural fan, I enjoyed the beginning of the novel very much. The prologue about the conflicted, young murderer-in-the-making, the introduction of Sam’s team, their collective work on the Lev (Leviticus) case were intriguing and, although only Sam and Logan got more detailed treatment, their interaction was entertaining, often amusing, because they know each other so well. Amusing detail: when faced with bigotry, all members of the team – including the straight ones – ramp up their inner queens. Let’s just say, I would have loved to see this. 😀 In the team, the characters are more types than anything else: fierce leader and his right hand man, a profiler, a computer wiz, etc. That is not a bad thing; on the contrary, I was reminded of some very popular and loved TV shows. Additionally, I appreciated that, connected to the mystery, people didn’t behave like morons – they took precaution, they protected themselves the best they could and didn’t run towards the danger.
But, romance fans, do not despair! Once Sam meets Mac, the mystery falls in the background and, while it never quite disappears, it never quite makes it to the surface either. The romance holds the reader’s attention and the lust between the men burns the pages. Mac is more likable character of the two – the Texan who decided to stop playing the closet game for the sake of his family and fully embrace his identity, the man who is caring and wants more from the relationship than a roll in the bed, who challenges Sam and is not willing to take much of his crap. Sam is emotionally stunted, high-strung and often, yes, a jerk. You are almost ready to give up on him, when he does something that makes you change opinion of him – like taking care of his nephew or going to his daughter’s grave to talk to her (the way he refrained from cursing in front of her grave was especially touching). There is a healthy dose of humor in this part of the story, especially when Sam is forced to renege on some of his strict relationship rules (but, of course, they are not in a relationship!). Some of the e-mail and text message exchanges between Sam and Mac are hilarious. People enjoying a good snark will love it. Sam also changes more by opening slooooowly to Mac. The happy-for-now ending was appropriate for these two, especially since they are also separated by the entire country, but, combined with unresolved mystery, it was dissatisfying.
Like I said, there are numerous characters in the book and some of them were very engaging, like Logan, Sam’s best friend, who likes anime (Yu Yu Hakusho!), is openly gay and has a mean sexy streak (not to mention the painful past), flamboyant Chris or mysterious Sasha, surly, arrogant, androgynous 15-year-old boy who befriends Sam’s nephew and whose family situation is obviously very difficult.
Ms. Donovan has a clean, engaging writing style which makes the reader want to stick to the book, regardless of its flaws. I was never bored, although the book is almost 400 pages long. I found some small editing errors (“you’re” instead of “your”, for example), but, really, not many. So, in the end, is this a good book? Well, yes and no. Yes, because I liked the characters and I cared for them (except the bitches, of course), the mystery was good until it was left dangling (and, I hope the murderer is not the one all the clues lead to, because that would be way too obvious) and, like I said, the writing was good. Should you read it? Yes. It’s ambitious and complex and, it seems, it will get even more so. However, all the book’s values aside, if you haven’t already read it, I advise you to wait until the next book is published. I will save you a lot of frustration and, I believe, it will significantly increase the enjoyment in Ms. Donovan’s writing and characters. So… recommended with some reservations.