Buy Link: Dirty Kiss
Author: Rhys Ford
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: Novel

Rating: 4.5

Dirty Kiss opens with a literal bang as private investigator and ex-cop Cole McGinnis frantically tries to escape the shotgun blasts of a leather-wearing, lesbian granny he was trying to catch cheating on her husband.  After that excitement, Cole is ready for an easy job, and agrees when his brother Mike asks him to look into what appears to be the suicide of a young man named Kim Hyun-Shik in a gay bar and whorehouse called the Dirty Kiss.

Cole has spent the last few years mourning his lover Rick who was killed in an inexplicable attack by Cole’s former police partner.  Cole was also shot in the same incident, leading to his retirement from the force.  Since that time Cole hasn’t had an interest in any other guys.  He is still missing Rick, as well as reeling from the betrayal by his friend and partner. He is not looking for or expecting to find love.

However, when Cole arrives at the Kim house to speak with the family, he is shocked to feel an immediate and strong reaction to Hyun’s cousin Jae-Min. As the case continues and more people keep getting killed or injured, Cole worries about Jae’s safety and refuses to give up the investigation.  Yet he knows there is more going on than Jae reveals.  Despite sharing the attraction, Jae is reluctant to start any kind of relationship with Cole due to his traditional Korean family.  The question is whether Cole can protect Jae and solve the case, as well as convince Jae to give their relationship a chance.

I really enjoy interracial romances and I think Dirty Kiss did a great job of highlighting the cultural differences between Jae and Cole and the ways they affected the relationship.  Jae comes from a very traditional Korean family.  He doesn’t feel like he can come out to them because his mother would cut him out of her life and no longer accept Jae’s financial help.  Despite the often cruel way they treat him, Jae’s life is wrapped up with that of his family and he can’t bear the idea of cutting that connection.

I think there is a nice juxtaposition in the book between the men’s cultural backgrounds and how it affects their lives.  Cole’s Japanese mother died in childbirth with him and he was raised by his Irish father.  Despite having a mixed racial background, Cole retains virtually none of his Asian identity.  Although his father severed their relationship when Cole came out, for Cole being himself and living out in the open is the most important thing, even though he misses his father and half siblings.

Jae tells Cole:

“If my mother finds out I’m gay, then she’ll turn me out of the family. I’ll be nothing to them, and no one from the rest of my family will acknowledge me. I’d be dead to them…

You don’t understand, and I don’t expect you to. You’re too white. You think that everything should be how you want it to be and damn everyone else. I can’t be like that. I don’t think that way.”

I also really liked the secondary characters in this book.  There was little of the usual sequel fodder or cookie cutter characters.  Cole’s brother Mike maintains a close relationship with him even though he still has a hard time with some aspects of Cole being gay.  He provides a lot of support for Cole and shows his love and caring in so many ways throughout the book despite his sometimes bossy big brother attitude.  I also like Cole’s friend Bobby, a retired (and recently out of the closet) police officer who helps him with the investigation and lends an ear when Cole needs to talk about the case or his relationship with Jae.  Scarlett is a Filipino crossdresser who works at the club and is friends with both Cole and Jae.  Cole’s assistant Claudia is the only one that felt a bit too much like a cliche to me as an older black woman, mother hen type.

The investigation plot was very well done.  I will admit that I had no idea who the killer was right up until the person was revealed.  There were a couple of times I couldn’t help thinking that Cole should just drop the investigation as his life and Jae’s became more endangered. But I could understand his reasons for sticking with it.  My only criticism is that toward the end the murder investigation really took over the book and the romance between Cole and Jae felt very secondary.

Which brings me to the larger issue of some unresolved plot points. When I finished the story I wanted things wrapped up a bit more.  But then I found out this is the first of series starring Cole, which made the lack of complete closure make much more sense.  Although the men end up together, they definitely haven’t reached their happily ever after yet.  Jae still struggles with how much he can be part of Cole’s life given his family obligations.  We are left knowing Cole wants more between them but not sure when or if that will happen.  Another issue that was left open ended is the question of why Cole’s former partner Ben shot Cole and Rick.  This was definitely presented as a mystery, one I hope Ford will address in future books.  Dirty Kiss definitely left me wanting more, and I am eagerly waiting the second installment.

Overall I thought this was a great book.  I loved Cole’s voice and his self-depricating tone.  He is a tough, strong guy without being too growly alpha and he is not afraid to be honest with Jae about his feelings.  I really liked how Ford blended the mystery, the culture, and the romance all together while still keeping things fast paced and exciting (not to mention hot!).  Definitely a recommended read.

Cover Review: A
I loved the cover.  Just how I pictured Cole. The book describes him as looking more like his Irish father, but the picture gives just enough of an impression of his ethnicity.  Hot guys, pretty picture.  Yeah!