Jake Plenty survived one world war and now another swirls to life around him in the sands of Morocco. Jake has no love of the Nazis, but he just wants to be left alone to run his popular nightclub. But when a high ranking German is killed in his club and his high paid companion for the evening (one of Jake’s girls) disappears, Jake finds himself attracting all the wrong kinds of attention.
Luckily for Jake, the local police inspector is an old friend, Nicolas Renard. They served together in the French Foreign Legion and it was Renard who saved Jake from the confines of a Turkish prison. So their bond is close, but neither man has ever fully trusted the other. Unbeknownst to Jake, Renard is walking a fine line between freedom fighter and traitor and the discovery of either could see him dead. As murder, politics, and war come crashing to a head, Jake and Nicolas must finally place their faith in one another and hope they are strong enough to survive the oncoming storm.
Because You Despise Me is an intense, though uneven, thriller with a flavoring of Casablanca. It’s something of a wartime romance, but this is equally balanced with spies, freedom fighters, and lost lovers. Jake and Nicolas are the primary focus of the book, though their romance is never given as much attention as I would have preferred. They work well together and if they are not a perfect couple, then they seem all the more realistic because of it.
Jake is a little harder to appreciate as his personality is somewhat less defined than Nicolas’. Jake spent a year as a captive of the Turks after Gallipoli and the torture he endured has clearly left its mark. He’s closed off and quick to take offense, but clever and brave when it matters. Nicolas is charmingly French and his languid approach to even the tensest of situations is rather delightful. His love for Jake is absolute and unflinching despite Jake’s reticence. The two often engage in quick-witted banter and their scenes together are the highlights of the book.
While Because You Despise Me possesses the flavor of a wartime thriller, it never achieves enough consistency to be satisfying. The plot is decidedly choppy and the transitions are jarring. Sections of the book seem to stumble into one another without fluidity and more than once I had to re-read a section to figure out what was going on. The murder investigation is uninspired and I never felt particularly invested in the outcome. Portions of the novel have a legitimate tension running beneath the surface, but this rarely evolves into anything more substantial. While the plot contains historical overtones, the historical reference points are a bit thin and the descriptions of Morocco lack much detail or vibrancy.
Because You Despise Me had a lot of potential but failed to develop either an authentic historical voice or a smooth flowing plot. As a result, while Jake and Nicolas are intriguing, our limited window into their romance is often interrupted by a narrative that neither appreciates or not fully utilizes all that it can. Still Jack and Nicolas are definite high points and if you enjoy wartime espionage, then Because You Despise Me might be worth picking up
A review copy of this book was provided by DSP Publications.