The-Combat-ZoneRating: 4 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

Would-be private detective Cody Harper and reporter Stephen Cross formed a special bond over a knife fight years ago. Now, Cody is beginning to realize that bond is more than just affection. Unfortunately, Cody is resigned to the fact that Stephen is committed to his long-time boyfriend, John.

The depth of Cody’s feelings are brought to a head when Stephen goes missing. Notably, Stephen has recently published a string of articles focusing on the plight of gays in the city at the same time a serial killer targeting gay men is loose in Boston’s red light district, called the Combat Zone. When Stephen doesn’t turn up, Cody is spurred into action. Even with a closeted cop dogging his every step and eager to haul Cody in on trumped up charges, Cody throws all caution to the wind as he pursues the only lead he has…a known hate group called Aryan America.

Adding more fuel to the fire are the dismal dreams that visit Cody. They haunt him with a string of possibilities as to what has happened to Stephen—and none of them good. Cody races against the clock trying to save the man he loves, but there are no guarantees when it comes to dealing with extremists.

Right off the bat, I have to admit that I was attracted to the superior distinction between narrative styles in this story. While the chapters do not strictly swap between two different narrators, their respective tones are crystal clear. While I read, chapters narrated in first person from Cody’s perspective helped me enjoy the rush of emotions vicariously. Conversely, there is a stark shift in tone when the chapters switch to those focusing on the main antagonist, which are told in third person and the prose very much communicated the alienation the character suffers.

With Cody as a narrator, I felt like I was allowed to live his colorful, if chequered life. He enjoys a bit of bondage and is very much the dominant when playing with his tricks, but at the same time, he easily identifies with a campier side of gay subculture in his love of musicals and vinyl records. Even his drag queen identity feels more or less like a natural extension of the character. I appreciate that this particular skill set is not whipped out deus-ex-machina style every time Cody’s in a pinch, that his being a drag queen is simply just another fact of his identity—he enjoys drag.

The chapters told from Jack’s perspective are usually much shorter, but what they lack in length, they make up for in creepiness. The text clearly showcases the man’s hardline attitude that gay people area abominations and plays it nicely off his refusal to accept his own homosexual tendencies and actions. There is a touch of gore in the very first chapter that just had my eyes bugging out at how depraved the man was and how horrendously despicable he treated his victim—yet it was not very graphic at all.

The plot itself weaves between what Cody’s doing and what Jack is doing. For the better half of the book, this dynamic revolved entirely around Cody’s desperate search for Stephen interspersed with snippets about what Jack is doing to Stephen. Again, although Jack is clearly has a vendetta against gays, much of the later chapters with him and virtually all his interactions with captive Stephen are not graphic. It really serves to build the tension. And said tension goes straight through the roof when we learn that Cody and Stephen are much closer to each other than they realize. It had me on tenterhooks for a goodly portion of the book.

One of the elements I was less fond of, but from a purely self-indulgent perspective, is that Cody and Stephen never become THE couple. Not that I necessarily want Cody to be a home wrecker or anything, but given that Cody is the main protagonist, I was always kind of rooting for him to get his man and John-the-boyfriend to bow out. This and one other key part of the story renders this impossible…and because of that, that itch to see my main character end up with the ending (and partner) I wanted for him went unsatisfied. That said, I liked how the way the Cody/Stephen non-romance played out in such a way that I enjoyed considering the merits of non-HEA stories.

Overall, if you enjoy thrillers or non-HEA stories, this would be a good book for you. There are elements of violence, but nothing I would consider graphic (probably wouldn’t even rate an “R” if it were rendered into a movie—at least not for the violence perpetrated against other humans) and a delightfully light touch on the drag and kinky sex subcultures.

camille sig

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