Rating: 4 stars
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Simon Monk was a highly decorated military operative until his romantic partner was caught selling secrets to the Chinese. Monk got dragged down with the man and ended up honorably discharged from the Army. He worked civilian security until he was recruited by an elite and covert group within the CIA for special missions.
Monk is called into duty when Jack Truly, the CIA station chief in Egypt, and his husband are discovered missing. The Egyptian government is claiming that Jack ran off with a lover, but Monk knows that Jack was in love with his husband. When the truth comes out that the couple was murdered, Monk is determined to track down the killers. To help him on the ground, Monk brings in his on again/off again lover Ben Namajunas and his team to provide military support. The pair were seeing each other pretty regularly until Monk’s new job with the CIA made it difficult to find time for each other. But being together again has the men rekindling their relationship.
Now Monk needs to dig into the mystery of what exactly happened to Jack and his husband. His investigation takes him throughout Cairo, attempting to find out the truth, all while the enemy is out to kill him and someone in his own agency is clearly working against them. But Monk won’t stop until he finds out the truth, even as the reality turns out to be far worse than anyone imagined. Monk must just hope he and Ben can make it out alive, and still manage to stop the political chaos that is about to unfold.
The Last Enemy is an engaging suspense story from Christian Beck. The plot is twisty and nicely developed, without being too convoluted. It has a lot of turns and double crosses and takes things in all kinds of directions that I didn’t anticipate with the case. The setting in Cairo is well incorporated and the story has a nice sense of place and the culture of the area. Monk has a bit of a throwback feel to me. He is sort of a super spy — good at everything, gets out of every situation, everyone either loves him or wants to kill him. It’s a bit over the top, but I think that it works. Yes, Monk is kind of super humanly awesome, but it made the story fun if you are just willing to go with the fact that he is pretty much the perfect action hero. There is definitely some darkness to the story as well. The fighting is brutal, there are some pretty intense conflicts, and Monk kills quite ruthlessly and without remorse. Again, I think it totally works with the tone of the book, but just be aware if you are squeamish about that sort of thing.
The focus of this story is definitely on the suspense end first and the romance second (which is fitting given the DSP Publications imprint). However, the relationship between Monk and Ben doesn’t take a total backseat, and in fact, we get some nice development of things between them here. The guys had been getting fairly serious until Monk’s job with the CIA kept them apart. So now that they are together for this mission, they kind of pick back up where they left off and then some. We see Monk realize how much Ben means to him and begin to think about how they could have more. Monk has been burned in the past by his lover and so he is wary, but over the course of the book we see the connection between Ben and Monk growing stronger and the story leaves them in a good place for the series to continue. So not a traditional romance, but I think the relationship between the two men is built into the story nicely. They get some sexy times together, as well as some moments where they can really connect with each other, while still keeping the focus on the suspense and their jobs.
So story wise, this book really worked well for me. Where I found I had some issues were with the writing style. First off, the story is told in third person omniscient, so basically we are in everyone’s head all the time. Most romances I read are third-person POV, so we are in one MC’s head or the other (or sometimes alternating between them). So there is nothing inherently wrong with this style, but it took some get used to because the POV moves all around to whomever is on the page.
Another style issue I had is that Beck uses a lot of descriptive detail. Like A LOT. This seems like an odd thing to raise as a concern, I realize, but it was so much as to be distracting to me while reading. For example, we get so many characters’ physical appearances described in detail, even insignificant side characters who barely appear on page. I feel like I know every single person’s eye color now. Monk’s outfits are also constantly and specifically described, so much so that every time he was in a new scene, I kept waiting to find out what he was wearing. It just became so distracting to me and, while giving us a sense of these characters is important, it went so far into the minutia that I found it pulled me out of the story. Here are just a couple of examples:
Murad’s gaze played across Monk. He found the man striking, casually dressed in a short-sleeve navy Henley and white chinos, rounding off the look with brown leather brogues. The woman wore a white blouse with the sleeves rolled up and a knee-high skirt. The top two buttons were undone, exposing substantial pale, freckled cleavage.
He was casually attired in layered shirts—a long-sleeve navy atop a white short-sleeve, khaki chinos with a brown leather belt, and dark brown suede oxfords.
I started to wonder how many different pairs of shoes this guy has and why he takes them all on his spy mission. Other details were like this as well. When Monk is in a fight, we are told what specific fighting style each of the three people are using. It was just information overload and I couldn’t help but feel like it was way more detail than I wanted or needed.
My last small style gripe is that people are often mentioned by first and last name over and over, even after they are introduced, sometimes within pages of a previous mention. It just was jarring, like we somehow would have forgotten who this person was who has appeared 15 times already in other scenes, only to then be mentioned by full name like we don’t know who the person is.
The only other issue I had here was some confusion on the timeline, and this totally might have just been me. We are told that Monk was together with his previous partner for five years, the guy sold secrets to the Chinese, Monk tracked him down and killed him, and then was quietly sidelined until his tour was up. After that, Monk worked private security until this CIA job. We are also told that when Ben and Monk were enlisted men, they had a long distance relationship and spent their 30 days of leave together in a big sex-a-thon, then continued seeing each other long distance and even considered moving to be together when Monk worked at the security firm, until he took the job with the CIA. So I am confused on the timeline here. If Monk’s last guy was before Ben (which he was) and after that he pretty much just rode out his tour until he was discharged, when did this relationship with Ben happen? In between? How did things get so serious when Monk was pretty much out of the army after the whole thing with his other guy? Again, this may have just been me misunderstanding, but I found this part confusing, though I am not sure it is important enough to matter regardless.
So I know this sounds like a lot of nitpicking, and I guess it is, but I did find myself really enjoying this story. Like I said, I think there were style elements that I had problems with, but the story itself was solid. I like the kind of throwback feel to this sort of super spy suspense story. I think the plot is really well done, the investigation really interesting, and the direction of the story went in some really fascinating places. This story felt really unique to me and kept my attention throughout. I liked Monk and Ben and am eager to see how things develop for them from here. So I am definitely looking forward to more from this series and seeing what the future holds for this couple.
A review copy of this book was provided by DSP Publications.