Monday, June 30, 2008

I Spy Something Bloody by Josh Lanyon

TITLE: I Spy Something Bloody
AUTHOR: Josh Lanyon
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 31k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $4.99

When British spy Mark Hardwicke decides to quit his dangerous career, he doesn’t follow procedure. Instead, he calls his ex-lover, American Stephen Thorpe, and asks to come see him, all without the benefit of leave. Stephen does so, albeit reluctantly, but when the battered Mark practically collapses upon arrival, Stephen makes it very clear that he’ll help treat Mark, but they’re not getting back together. He’s moved on. He’s not interested in waiting for his ex any longer. But he just might be Mark’s last hope.

I think this story might be a first for me. It’s the first Lanyon story I’ve read where I didn’t like the narrator. There have been stories in the past where the primary protagonist might have pushed a button or two in me, but I can’t say I actually disliked any of them. Not so in this case. I found Mark’s manipulative nature and emotional distancing difficult to get around, and his treatment of Stephen appalling. It ends up coloring my entire reading experience, and in the end, I just can’t buy the romance aspect of the story. Now, if it had been written without the HEA and instead as an exercise for Mark to take the experiences in this story as a potential for personal growth…I have to admit that would have likely been far more satisfying for me. But he didn’t, and so I have to figure out why this book doesn’t work for me as well as other Lanyon work.

Stephen is – by far – the more sympathetic of the two men. He’s the genteel older man, 21 years Mark’s senior. He’s the one who gets ignored for two years. He’s the one who’s been most obviously hurt. I really, really liked Stephen until his turnaround at the end. He’s an all-around nice guy trying desperately to remember how Stephen left him hanging for so long. I mean, really? Two years? When Mark was fully aware of just how much Stephen didn’t like what he did for a living already? Continuing to stay away, taking assignment after assignment, tells me he just wasn’t ready for the type of commitment Stephen wanted and deserved. I still don’t think he’s ready. He freely admits to having created an imaginary Stephen to idolize while he was gone. Frankly, I’m surprised Stephen waited as long as he did to try and move on.

The entire story has a melancholy air to it, from the carefully crafted prose to the characterizations. Neither man is happy. Even in the bucolic atmosphere of the Shenandoah, there remains a sense of foreboding. Time ticking away. Mark is AWOL, Stephen is not a young man anymore, both are in search of resolution. It’s a far more moody piece than other Lanyon fare, and it’s this aspect that creates an unusual situation for me. I tend to read genre fiction to escape, to not think too much, to feel and get caught up in the rush of emotions. But Lanyon’s references to Little Dorrit throughout the story – Mark is reading it and brings it along with him to Stephen’s, and quotes quite a bit from it – automatically put my brain into a different mode. A third of the way through the story, I started trying to discern how the most prevalent themes of Little Dorrit – those of imprisonment and family – applied to Mark and Stephen. Because I don’t for a second believe that Lanyon didn’t choose Little Dorrit on purpose. He’s far too precise in his language. This element, more than anything else, distanced me from the story. Since I didn’t like Mark, I think I latched onto an analysis mode that might not have taken root had I been emotionally invested.

In the end, the pleasure I got from this story isn’t the resolution of Mark and Stephen’s relationship. It’s from appreciating the craft of what Lanyon has done here. He most definitely knows what he’s doing.


9/10 – Always solid and tight. My sole stumbling block came with pacing.

Hero #1

6/10 – Fully realized, but the distancing he describes in himself worked too well on me and I kept from engaging too much on his side in the end.

Hero #2

7/10 – Far more sympathetic than Mark, though again, he was far too convincing for me to believe later switcharounds

Entertainment value

6/10 – I have more fun considering the literary parallels than believing the romance.

World building

8/10 – The immediate world around each man is well-developed, but I wanted more details of Mark’s profession and work environment.




jessewave said...

I read your reviews regularly because I like the way you give your opinions and explain why; more often than not I agree with you. In this case I didn't and thought I would send you my review of the same book to give you a sense of why I took a completely different approach. Here's the link if you care to read it the review -

Of course books, movies, food and clothing are probably the areas where personal opinion plays a huge role but I just thought I would share mine this time. By the way I bought Dead Man's Rain b/c of your review and will read it in a couple of weeks as soon as I'm finished with a whole bunch of books in my TBR pile :)

Book Utopia Mom said...

Oh, I think your reaction is completely valid. And I think if I hadn't reacted so strongly to Mark, then I'd probably have enjoyed the story more (though I'm still not sure I would have believed Stephen's turnaround at the end). I think it's just one of those cases where personal experiences color how we interpret certain characters. Because the story is more than competent enough on a technical level. It's my kneejerk, emotional reaction to him that influenced everything.

I hope you enjoy Dead Man's Rain. :) It's one of those stories I think could get lost in the ether, and was just too well written to deserve that.

jessewave said...

I do understand why you reacted as you did to Mark's character and how this impacted your view of the book (happens to me all the time with G.A. Hauser's books.) However, the one constant about Josh's characters is that his heroes (or anti heroes) are real with human flaws and are not cardboard cut
outs. I may hate their guts and sometimes I think he's pushing our buttons, but he doesn't allow the readers to see his protags through rose coloured glasses and he gives us his view of human nature.

A lot of romance readers are mad at Josh b/c of Jake's character in the Adrien English series - they all want a HEA, when the clues are all there about his (Jake's)take on life. In any event this (AE) is a series (meaning continuing stories) and I know you get that, and is not about romance - they are mysteries with a bit of sex thrown in :) But romance readers want what they want.

I look forward to reading DMR soon and I'll send you the link to my review. If you have the time I would love for you to drop by my blog - There's an interview that I posted yesterday with Anne Cain and her writing partner Barbara Sheridan (I think you'll enjoy the art) here's the link to the blog -

If you leave a comment you could win a prize - the grand prize is either an original piece of art from Anne's collection or a drawing or other artwork commissioned by the winner!

Well today is Canada Day (similar to your July 4th holiday) and being Canadian I'm off to enjoy the festivities. TTYL

Book Utopia Mom said...

Yeah, one of Josh's greatest strengths is his ability to create flawed characters. And I think it's a credit to Josh that I believed in Mark to the point of having the reaction I did to him. It's the same way I feel about Jake, to be honest. I'm *glad* there's no HEA in the AE books for them. I probably wouldn't mind if he got rid of Jake entirely, lol.

Thanks for the invite. Anne Cain is a marvelous artist.

lisabea said...

In the end, the pleasure I got from this story isn’t the resolution of Mark and Stephen’s relationship. It’s from appreciating the craft of what Lanyon has done here. He most definitely knows what he’s doing.

Ain't that the truth?

Josh Lanyon said...

Hey there! I completely missed this review -- not spending any time on the web these days. Thanks very much for it.

You might be interested to know that your reaction to Mark was very similiar to my editor's. *g*

Book Utopia Mom said...

Well, at least I'm not alone, lol. I was starting to wonder after reading the other reviews what I'd missed in Mark that everybody else saw.

I hope your wrist is doing better, by the way. Or at least, doesn't bother you as much. :)