Review Summary: Too much sex and violence almost spoiled this story which had the potential to be so much better.
The Blurb Now that Shane Templar has stripped the armour from Matt Langer’s heart, will either of them ever be safe again?
Though two years past, Matthew Langer is still getting over the death of a loved one. He’s steered clear of serious relationships, but when he meets the irascible, dirty mouthed and tempestuous Shane Templar that decision has never been harder.
Shane is sexy, warm and funny, and Matthew finds himself trying like hell not to fall for him. Especially when Shane, with his quick wit and hacking skills, is quick to stand up for justice and avenge wrongs. Then Shane strikes at the wrong target, and Matthew realises just how far he’s already fallen. At the threat of losing for good yet another man who has broken through his armour, Matthew finds his heart stripped bare. He must face the demons of his soul or a future without love.
This is Susan Mac Nicol’s first M/M romance after a few het romances and I think she used the familiar template in this genre of lots of sex and graphic violence to ensure success, as evidenced by all the 5 star reviews of this book on Amazon.
The story opens with one of our MCs, Shane Templar, an escort for an exclusive agency, bound spread eagled to a bed by an occasional client but not someone with whom he had been sexually intimate. Shane had been slipped roofies in his drink and while his client David Debussy didn’t rape him he did ejaculate all over him. In the middle of this scene David’s father Walter telephoned him, extremely angry about something that David had supposedly done, and demanded that he come home immediately. David was obviously afraid of his father and later events proved he was right to be scared. Although he was mad at David for what he had done to him, Shane was even more upset when he learned a few hours later that David was in the hospital suffering from injuries caused by a terrible beating.
Shane immediately went to the hospital to obtain information about what had happened to David and to get an update on his condition. When he arrived there he was met by David’s friend Matthew Langer, who was also Walter Debussy’s lawyer. At the hospital all Matthew was interested in was his friend David’s condition, which he suspected his homophobic father and his sidekick Roy Parsons, both psychopaths, had a major hand in but couldn’t prove and David was too scared to talk. When Matthew refused to cover up what he believed was a crime committed by Walter Debussy against his own son, he was fired. All of this drama happened in the first chapter of what was supposed to be a romance.
Now on to the rest of the story. Shane had been kicked out of his home by his father when he was 17 but he didn’t follow the usual path of prostitution or drugs to make a living. Apparently he had met an older man at a Pride parade whom he contacted right away and moved in with him. They had a sexual relationship for awhile until he could make it on his own and left. Because he was so good looking he found a job as an escort working for a high end agency; in addition to the escort gig he used his computer skills to become an IT security consultant working for major corporations to help them fix holes in their security systems.
Shane and Matthew started dating when they ran into each other at a club about 10 days after their first meeting and Shane soon realized that he was in love with Matthew, but it was clear that his feelings were not returned although Matthew was attracted to him and wanted to have sex as much as Shane. Matthew was the complete opposite of Shane in all other respects. His life had been very traditional until his husband’s death when he fell apart. Shane wanted a relationship with him right away but Matthew definitely was not in the market for a boyfriend, he only wanted a friend with benefits as he was still grieving the loss of his husband Sam who had died 2 years ago. He was emotionally closed off and a control freak and Shane was always the one making concessions. As the relationship (such as it was, since Matthew wouldn’t admit it was a relationship) progressed, Matthew demanded that Shane give up his escort business, which he did, but he still had major issues about making a commitment to him even though he had insisted that Shane have sex only with him.
Matthew was a strange mix – he loved his dead husband and couldn’t get over him, which showed he was capable of deep feelings, but OTOH I thought he was very materialistic as he loved all the trappings of the “good” life such as expensive cars, designer clothing and everything else that went with that lifestyle,. However, he was kind and sweet to David when he needed help desperately so I guess that made him a more rounded character.
There’s a lot going on in the book and I liked most of it as the protagonists were well drawn in addition to being very flawed, and the story was complex but to tell the truth, after a few chapters I was ready to DNF it because I found the beatings administered by Roy (this is not a spoiler as it was obvious immediately who was the culprit) to be excessive and extremely violent and this violence, which made me gag, continued throughout the book. In addition, I thought that the amount of sex was disproportionate to the story, and every disagreement between Shane and Matthew was solved with even more sex. However, everyone’s taste is different and I know that many M/M readers love their books to have copious amounts of sex in every chapter.
In terms of the supporting characters, David’s father Walter and his henchman Roy were vile and repulsive with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I thought their lines were offensive and while I realize that the dialogue was mostly in character as they were extremely homophobic, the constant slamming of gay men in the book through the hateful, contemptuous and crude terms used throughout (cocksucker, faggot, etc.) was overdone and taken to a whole new level in Stripped Bare. David’s brother was just as much of a cretin as his father as he watched Roy beat David to a pulp on his father’s instructions and did nothing to stop it.
On the other side of the ledger, Shane’s father turned out to be caring and it seemed that he immediately regretted his actions when he kicked him out’ and he made up for it in spades. Shane’s South African friend Timothy Zwane was another wonderful and funny character and Julia Francis the office manager in Matthew’s new place of employment was just as well drawn.
To summarize this long review: there’s a lot going on which I suppose is to be expected in a 346 page book, but I felt that it could have been shortened and focused more on the romance rather than all the unimportant and extraneous issues as well as the many beatings. Both MCs were three dimensional but I liked Shane more than Matthew because he seemed more caring. Some of the sex scenes, most of which didn’t further the plot, could have been deleted because many of them were repetitious and even boring, but that’s just my opinion. On balance, even though I have been very critical of some aspects of the book I’m still giving it 4 stars because of the MCs, the complex plot and the fact that Susan Mac Nicol is a good writer.