Title: The Hardest Thing
Author: James Lear
Publisher: Cleis Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: contemporary, action/ adventure
Rating: 4 out of 5 rating stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: A fast paced action-movie-like story featuring a main character who fucks first, asks later.
Warning: Contains graphic violence
The Blurb: Killing Is Easy. Love Is… The Hardest Thing
Once a major in the US Marines, Dan Stagg fell foul of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and is now struggling to make sense of civilian life. In his late 30s, tall and muscular, Dan works as a bouncer at an East Village nightclub. When he’s offered a fortune to protect the young male secretary of a powerful real estate developer, Dan takes off on a road trip with a hot blond companion who makes it clear that “protection” doesn’t stop at the bedroom door. But Dan soon realizes he’s being used as a shield for a much more sinister operation and has to choose between easy money and the ideals that he once fought for.
Dan Stagg Mystery series
“Pulp magazines”(…) were popular during the mid-20th century, known for their graphic violence and punchy dialogue (…)
Add a liberal amount of (gay) erotic encounters to the wikipedia quote above, and you have The Hardest Thing. Gritty, dark, with high-speed action and violence, both dealed out and exerted on the protagonist(s)–and with a hint at romance that takes the worst edge off the story. Thrilling, engrossing and highly entertaining.
Ex-Marine, ex bouncer (thanks to smashing the wrong guy’s face in), Dan Stagg doesn’t know how to pay for his next meal when a somewhat shady character approaches him with the proverbial offer he can’t deny. That’s how Dan ends up with Stirling McMahon (aka Jody), a rich man’s “secretary” (read: boy toy). It doesn’t take long and Dan and Stirling not only find themselves on the lam together but also in each other’s pants. Not surprisingly as for the latter, since Dan screws anything with a heartbeat (and a dick) and Sterling, once he stops being a princess, uses his assets in an almost aggressive sexually provocative way in order to get what he wants.
Dan Stagg is a very interesting hero, or rather anti-hero. First and foremost, he’s not actually likable–on the contrary, he is pretty much an asshole. Perpetually horny, abrasive, violent. He has sex with any guy he wants at any time that seems convenient for him (even if it actually isn’t, which leads to some scenes that may have been steaming hot but at the same time were so out of place they struck me as ridiculous). Actually, his skills at finding yet another sexual hookup were fabulous; at times, I was under the impression the former exceeded his fighting skills. However, if Dan can’t fuck himself out of one predicament or the other, he beats and shoots himself out.
But underneath that rough-and tumble exterior is a damaged, broken guy. The army cast him aside because of his sexuality, no matter his sacrifices and his professional achievements. The world, or so he thinks, denies him the right at happiness for the same reason. And his emotions grow increasingly conflicted over what his relationship with Sterling/Jody does to his mind and heart. Dan’s confusion and anger carried over in the narrative to a point where it almost grew frustrating for me as the reader–while at the same time, it made my heart go out to Dan. I can’t imagine Dan living a white picket fence sort of life, but I couldn’t help cheering for Jody–perhaps he’ll be able to domesticate wild Dan at least a little bit.
Compared to Dan, Stirling/ Jody remained somewhat paler, mostly because the story was told in Dan’s first person POV and so we only saw Jody through Dan’s eyes. However, Jody was fleshed-out enough that I could see him as Dan’s match. Not much less broken than Dan, he was still the more positive of the pair, and I liked him and his hand moisturizer, polished nails and bratty ass-shaking manner of walking from the start.
Don’t be fooled, this is not a romance. I’d rather peg it gay erotic fiction, if a peg is needed, perhaps with some mystery thrown in (because the actual mystery wasn’t much of one) and with lots of action and ka-pow. If this is your thing, go for this book, it might just hit the spot.