A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: A well-written, fast-paced book with a keen sense of time and place that placed the mystery first and put emotional commitment before physical intimacy.
***This book contains scenes of graphic violence that might be disturbing to some readers***
The Blurb: On the battlefields of WWII Europe, Charlie Harris fell in love, and after the war, Roger marched home without a glance back. Ten years later, Charlie receives a cryptic summons and quickly departs for his former lover’s hometown of Whistle Pass.
But Roger Black isn’t the lover of Charlie’s dreams anymore. He’s a married, hard-bitten political schemer who wants to secure his future by destroying evidence of his indiscreet past. Open homosexuality is practically a death sentence, and that photo would ruin Roger and all his wife’s nefarious plans.
Caught up in foggy, tangled events, Charlie turns to hotel manager Gabe Kasper for help, and Gabe is intrigued by the haunted soldier who so desperately desires peace. When helping his new lover places Gabe in danger, the old warrior in Charlie will have to take drastic action to protect him… or condemn them both.
The Review: In addition to the warning above, there’s another one for those who need steaming, graphic sex scenes in their reading – don’t go any further, for this book isn’t for you. Seriously. This book doesn’t have a single sex scene, not even a veiled one, between the main characters; they barely get as far as kissing. But is it erotic? Hell, yes, and romantic too, in a drastic, kill-me-or-love-me way I found actually heartwarming.
To the book: It’s 1955 when being pegged as “a queer” usually meant ostracism at least, and worse only too often, such as being admitted to a mental institution, or becoming the subject to physical violence. Admitting to being a homosexual man could be a lethal mistake, quite literally.
Charlie Harris knows that. But he still leaves everything behind when a telegram from the man he once loved gives him reason to believe that Roger wants him back in his life.
However, Charlie’s reception in Whistle Pass is anything but cordial. Practically right upon arrival in his hotel he’s jumped by three men, and the policeman he thought came to his aid bashes him up instead. While Charlie is still busy figuring out what’s going on, he suffers a shell-shock attack, and to top it all, when he finally meets his former lover, Roger apparently doesn’t have the slightest idea who sent the telegram that summoned Charlie. But, politician who he is, Roger concludes that Charlie’s being in Whistle Pass must be part of a scheme against him, and he uses all the emotional leverage he still has on Charlie to talk his former lover into finding out who’s pulling the strings.
Charlie’s heart is broken all over again, but he still agrees to Roger’s plans. The attack on him has made it personal, after all. And then, there’s Gabe Kasper, the hotel manager, who had helped Charlie through his shell shock attack,
“… a man who owed him nothing, but had provided Charlie more than the manager would ever know…”
a man who takes up more and more room in Charlie’s thoughts as they get to know each other and start working together at solving the mystery of Whistle Pass.
Gabe is a Korean War veteran, and a shell-shock sufferer is nothing new to him. But Charlie Harris is more than just another traumatized soldier, he’s
“…one of the most enticing and exotic men [Gabe] has ever seen…”
and Gabe seems unable to get him out of his mind, even though he’s recently been burned by a romance turned bad. Helping the attractive stranger in any way he can just comes natural to Gabe. He may be Whistle Pass’s “pet queer”, but he still has friends in his native town; he may be not as formidable a warrior as Charlie is, but he’s got his own set of tricks up his sleeve.
The mystery was what kept this story together and moved it forward. It was fast-paced and action-filled, and kept me guessing right to the eventual explosive showdown. Which unfortunately was the only part of the story that left me underwhelmed; after all the buildup, fights, secrecy, and scheming, the eventual solution appeared rather far-fetched and lacking logical realism; for me, it didn’t really fit with the rest of the book. Might be a matter of taste, though.
The attraction between Gabe and Charlie is instant and mutual, but being in the time and place they are, and dealing with the intrigues and sinister types they do, they have to be super-careful. So they dance around each other, trying to connect even while warily in manly incommunicado, each determined to protect the other from harm. Eventually each man turns out to be ready to lay his life down for the other, while at the same time they almost miss their chance at living for and with each other because they are both too self-conscious and working on preconceived opinions.
Both Charlie and Gabe are wonderfully drawn characters, and they’d make a perfect couple, would they get out of their own heads long enough to realize. I found their slow romance nicely done even though their not-talking made me wish to knock their heads together more than once.
Anyway, the characterizations – this book had so many memorable characters; even the bad guys were well – drawn and nuanced.
As far as I’m concerned, the writing was outstanding here. Narrative and dialogue made a seamless whole, interspersed with contemporary phrases and expressions that conveyed the spirit of the times. The story flowed smoothly, conducted with practiced ease, dry-witted and to the point while at the same time the author painted vivid pictures with his words. It drew me in and carried me along, and what better experience can there be to a book?
In a nutshell, this was an amazingly written, intriguing story, a thrilling mystery and a subdued romance which I thoroughly enjoyed. I can only recommend it.