Rating: 4 stars
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It is 1916 and Max O’Rouke is a cop in Storyville, the red light district of New Orleans. He enjoys his job and dreams of one day becoming a detective. And as long as he manages to keep secret his desire for men, he has a good chance of making that happen. But Max finds himself so tempted by Tommy LeBarre, a young piano player at one of the brothels. He wants Tommy and he knows Tommy wants him back, but Max also knows there is no way he can allow himself to give in to those desires or else he is sure to lose his job and possibly go to jail.
But things change the night there is a raid on The Pleasure Palace where Tommy works. Everyone knows the police have been told no arrests on Storyville, except for breaking up fights or dealing with drunks. So Max is shocked when it appears Tommy is a target of the raid. And even more worried when it appears someone wants Tommy dead. Max is determined to protect Tommy, and as they spend more time together, the attraction between them grows. And now that Max has finally claimed Tommy for his own, he is even more determined to keep him safe.
So a really interesting time period and setting here for this story. Lorenz does a really nice job of making it all come to life, from the cops riding the wagon around town, to the bucket brigades putting out fires, to the men in their finery gathering each evening at the bordellos. We see how difficult it is for Max, needing to keep his love for men a secret. And even the struggles for his partner, an Italian cop in love with a mixed race prostitute, another impossible love match. I found I could really picture the city streets and imagine all the events and scenes so clearly.
I also enjoyed Max and Tommy and found them a nice mixture of sweet and sexy. Max is a little older and definitely has a bit of a dominant streak. But I also loved how Tommy did not just take a passive role in everything. He is determined and strong willed and a bit of a spit fire in everything from his relationship with Max to his efforts to save his beloved piano. Tommy has a nice mix of innocence combined with a little bit of devilishness that I really liked. I will say that they guys seem to fall for each other very quickly and intensely given how minimal their contact seems to have been up until that point. It is described mostly in terms of casual exchanges between them as Max patrols through The Pleasure Palace. So I get the lust and even the protectiveness on Max’s part. But when the guys finally get together, they are almost immediately not only having intense feelings for one another, but seem to know each other incredibly well for such little time spent together.
I also found the pacing a bit off for me. The story is told in Max’s first person POV and the first part of the book focuses a lot on setting the stage for his eventual relationship with Tommy. I feel like we spend a lot of time with Max thinking “I want him. But I can’t let myself have him” sort of on repeat until he finally gives in to his desires. The risks he will face and the dangers to his job and his life seem virtually insurmountable. And yet after that point, what seemed like an impossible situation suddenly works out relatively easily. It just seemed like a lot of build up as to why the relationship was impossible, and then Tommy basically moves in and there seem to be no repercussions nor any real threat of any.
I also was a little disappointed later in the book when we find out who is threatening Tommy and why. The danger builds and we know that his life is at risk and it seems like the story is leading into a suspenseful and thrilling resolution. But it sort of fizzles out in the end with nothing major really happening and the conflict resolving itself pretty much off page. I just was surprised with all the lead up to have it all come together sort of blandly.
So I really enjoyed parts of this one and found other areas a bit lacking. I think if you like a good period story, there is a lot to really enjoy here. The setting is fabulous and the sense of time and place is just done so well. I found Max and Tommy really likable and a nice pair. Some of the plot issues fell a little flat for me, but overall I found it a nice read.