Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Life Lessons by Kaje Harper

TITLE: Life Lessons
AUTHOR: Kaje Harper
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 88k)
GENRE: Gay mystery erotic romance
COST: $7.99

High school teacher Tony Hart stays late one night and ends up in the middle of a murder investigation when a stabbed co-worker literally falls against him. Detective MacLean begins keeping an eye on him, at first for the sake of the case, then because he can’t seem to stop thinking about the young teacher. When Tony’s life becomes endangered, the two men are thrust even closer together. They have to deal with the fact Mac is deeply closeted, as well as someone out there wants Tony dead…

Though closeted gay cops are plentiful in m/m romance, not all of them are worth reading about. Thankfully, this fell well onto the side of worth it.

English teacher Tony Hart has come back to the school late one Friday to pick up a box of books from his classroom. When the elevator doors open, a teacher he doesn’t really care for falls back into the car, and it takes Tony a moment to realize the man’s been stabbed. He calls 911, but the other teacher is dead before they arrive. Detective MacLean arrives as part of the investigation, and the two get off on the wrong foot since until they know better, Tony is their prime suspect. While Tony is out, Mac is deeply in the closet. Both of them fight their mutual attraction. When Tony is almost killed in a hit-and-run, their relationship escalates. But Mac has no desire to expose his sexuality, and there is still somebody out there who wants Tony dead.

While I love a good mystery, I almost gave up on this one in the first few chapters. Tony’s reaction to Mac at first is not a good one. He gets deliberately provocative in their initial scenes, and though he later laments that he’s acting like his friend Marty, it annoyed me to the point where I questioned how involved I could get if I disliked him so much already. I decided to stick it out, though, and am grateful I did. The belligerence Tony displayed at the start disappeared soon afterward, and I was able to fall into the slow evolution of their romance.

And slow it is. These two don’t fall into bed together. Mac is deeply in the closet, and Tony thinks he’s a straight widower. Both fight their attractions, and as they do so, it succeeds in tightening the tension. Much of the focus is actually on the crime and investigation, with romantic scenes ancillary to that. These are done with a deft hand, detailed and believable, and gradually build the suspense of just what exactly happened with the dead teacher. Mac is thorough and competent, without being perfect, while Tony makes enough mistakes to buy into his procedural ignorance. Even after the romance moves to another level, the murder isn’t forgotten. That noose only tightens further, leading into the explosive last fourth that hurtles the reader toward the end.

I don’t have many misgivings regarding this novel. By the story’s end, I loved both men, though I didn’t completely accept that Tony was as young as I was told he was. The story’s HFN worked for me, too, since it’s made abundantly clear throughout the story that Mac is never going to come out of the closet. It’s more realistic than I would find in a lot of m/m, and I appreciated that. It also succeeded in doing something a lot of stories don’t. It drove me to the publisher’s website to see what else the author has done. I will be reading the sequel to this, as well as the free short I picked up on Amazon. I’m looking forward to what life has in store for these two guys.


9/10 – Tight action, strong balance of plot and characters, I couldn’t stop

Hero #1

7/10 – I didn’t care for him at the start, and didn’t completely buy his youth

Hero #2

8/10 – I loved the dark conflict within him

Entertainment value

9/10 – The first thing I did when I was done was go looking for more, always an excellent sign

World building

9/10 – Excellent detail on the cop end, highly believable



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