Author: Lynn Lorenz
Publisher: MLR Press
Cover Art: Trace Edward Zaber
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: historical m/m romance
Length: Novella (29k words)
Rating: 4.25 out of 5 rating stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: A heartwarming tale of two men finding love with each other in difficult times and circumstances, set in a vividly drawn 1916 New Orleans.
The Blurb: When policeman Max O’Rouke first patrolled the Storyville red-light district in New Orleans, he fell for piano player Tommy LeBarre and Tommy fell for Max. During those two years, however, they never acted on their desires. After all, how could a cop and a piano player in a whorehouse ever be together?
But now, when Tommy’s bordello is raided and he is left homeless and on the run from danger, Max is the only person who can protect him.
Someone wants Tommy dead, and Max will do anything, even kill, to protect his boy…
Max is a beat cop, he thinks and talks like a cop, meeting his hometown’s various particularities with no-nonsense factuality, be it racial segregation, nepotism, protectionism or the town leaders’ bigotry that lies in their open condemnation of Storyville’s turpitude while at the same time they’re the bordellos’ best customers–or his contemporaries’ stance on homosexuality, for which homophobia really is to weak a word. If ever anybody found out about Max being gay, he’d lose everything, including his prospect of making detective one day, and he’d probably be run out of the town, alive, if he’s lucky.
This is why Max contented himself with merely adoring piano player Tommy from afar for two whole years and only turned to male prostitutes when the urge made him desperate. Not only to protect himself, but also to protect Tommy. But now that someone targets Tommy and makes attempts on Tommy’s life, Max’s protection needs to become more substantial. Chance and happenstance throw them together in Max’s small apartment, Max, Tommy, and Tommy’s piano. And now, with Tommy so close, Max can’t resist the need for physical closeness any longer. It’s a terrible risk they both take, but it turns out that some things are worth it.
This story had a really vivid sense of place and time, not lastly to Max’s strong narrative voice. It’s 1916, it’s New Orleans, and everything about the writing transported me right there, from the colorful and detailed descriptions of places, scents and sounds to the character’s mindsets and language. Max, as the narrator, is the best-drawn character; I found him very realistic, down to some of the things he unapologetically did that jibed against my present-day sensibilities. I liked Max, his hands-on practicality, his smart courage and his dry sense of humor. There were also some very well-drawn secondary characters in the book, from Max’s fellow cop James to the bordello queens and prostitutes. Tommy, who the reader only gets to see through Max’s eyes, was a dear, innocent and sweet even though he owned some of the raciness you’d expect from a boy who’d grown up in a bordello, and brimming with life. He was just the one to coax Max out of his shell and make him more daring than he’d otherwise have been. He was also very young, not only in years, which lead to some temper tantrums on his part. What I liked best about Tommy was his musicality; music wasn’t only something he did for a living, it was a part of him, integral to his existence.
Despite both main characters’ mutual long-time crush, their romantic relationship unfolded slowly, very much in tune with the spirit of the time and also with both characters’ personalities. Unfortunately, as far as I’m concerned, the eroticism veered off into a D/s relationship of sorts that I didn’t care much for; it might also have been in tune with their respective personalities, but to me, it read a bit contrived. But that might be only me.
The weakest part of the book was the mystery; I had the villain and his motives figured out pretty early on while the characters remained clueless. That might’ve been intentional, but for me, it took away from the fun of reading.
My issues aside, this was a very entertaining and pleasurable read. The writing was fast-paced, skillful and laced with Max’s delicious humor, the characters were likable and well-drawn and their romance compelling. Recommended.