As a cop, Mike Angalls prides himself on his stalwart fidelity to the rules. It’s as much his identity as it is what makes him an excellent detective. Unofficially, his sterling record and the fact that he is gay has made Mike somewhat untouchable. No one on the force can impugn his impeccable results and the force can claim they are inclusive. But it’s not without struggles on both sides.
For one thing, Mike isn’t just gay, he’s polyamorous. For another, not everyone on the force is as accepting of Mike’s four-way relationship. Neither Mike nor his colleagues ever expected Mike’s lovelife to interfere with a case. That, however, is exactly what happens when Mike’s precinct finds itself in charge of investigating the death of a minor league soccer player. Mike gets the honors of running the investigation and that dubious distinction is entirely because the deceased was found in a gay bar. Mike questions the prime suspect, who also happens to be the secret lover of the deceased, but the suspect’s father makes the case devastatingly personal when he threatens the lover with whom Mike shares a special bond, even among his other lovers.
Caught between doing the right thing—treating this case with the same clinical detachment and drive as any other—and sacrificing his deepest professional morals in the name of love, Mike has some hard choices to make. No matter what he chooses, he stands to lose. The question really is where his loyalties really lie.
I chose this story because I’m interested in understanding how relationships with more than two romantic partners are portrayed. To date, I can only recall one other book that focused on a trio of men, and that felt more like a pair of lovers with an a third wheel thrown in by mutual agreement. In Badge of Loyalty, I feel like I had a more rounded view of a polyamorous relationship. Trusswell goes out of their way to try portraying the effect and reality of this relationship and its impact on the various members by including snippets of narration from Mike’s lovers’ perspectives. In that regard, I think the book was a great success. For the record, it was clearly established that Mike and Ross are more of a traditional couple—Mike himself admits that while he loves all his men, it is Ross he could not live without.
Mike Angells definitely comes across as the alpha of the relationship, though whether by design or happenstance, I can’t tell. He is the only one of the four men for whom Tresswell provides a well-rounded and consistent on-page presence. Ross the art aficionado, Phil the doctor, and Raith the artist, are largely shown through the lens of their relationship to Mike. Most chapters start or end with a snippet from a lover’s POV. These narrations seemed to discuss things largely in terms of how the narrating person “fit” with Mike. The main part of the chapters is then told in third person narrative and largely about Mike’s work as a detective. Mike’s romantic relationships with each of them feel somewhat substantiated and everyone seems satisfied with their polyamory, however, it also unfortunately reinforces the idea of pairs among the four, but where Mike is almost always one half of the pair. Because the main action focuses so exclusively on Mike’s professional life, I couldn’t help but think Tresswell has put Mike the character on a pedestal. This story is his story more than a real exploration of polyamory. It wasn’t off putting necessarily, but it was disappointing for me since I was specifically drawn to the polyamory aspect.
The story itself started off poorly mechanically speaking. I was not prepared for the multiple narrators. The overall effect felt very disjointed for the first several chapters. I didn’t know who was who or why I should care until I was maybe a third of the way through the book. It’s also worth noting that Trusswell makes extensive use of acronyms, but fails to disambiguate them. Alphabet soup made the main police storyline near indecipherable. Maybe if you watch a lot of British crime drama, these all make sense, but I could not parse 75% of the acronyms—were they titles for jobs or sections within the police department or verbal shorthand for common procedures? This was very nearly my first DNF because I had no idea what was going on.
Eventually, I had to go back to the official blurb to figure out what was even happening. Normally, I don’t have to or even like to “prep” myself before reading—the plot, characters, location, etc., are usually easy enough to make things clear. While reading, it is important to note that each of Mike’s lovers either starts or ends a chapter with first person narration about their relationship with Mike. Often, they reflect on how they met Mike or how they handle being in a relationship with Mike. On the down side, this means you jump around a lot in time and place. Once you get used to it, these are enjoyable little bits. Another thing they do, and it gets especially noticeable towards the end of the book, is foreshadow events to come. These hints at the future were as tantalizing as they were nerve racking. The foreshadowing did serve one more very important function for me: they helped build up events so they did not come across as happening purely because the author wanted them to.
Given the care shown in planning certain climactic scenes, I cannot understand why Trusswell does two specific things to the characters. One: if there is one clear message about how this relationship works, it’s that everything comes down to communication. However, we virtually never see any combination of this foursome actually talk about their relationship. Not when Mike has sex with the absolute worst person at the absolute worst time, not when Ross reveals a skeleton long buried in his closet, not when one of the four crosses what had been a “line in the sand” with regards to the foursome’s sexual practices. This was a huge disappointment for me. Two: that sex on the side that Mike has just screamed “the author wanted this to happen” and it pissed me off, given the lip service paid to the idea that Mike and his partners could be happily exclusive to each other.
Overall, this was a technically interesting book. I was mostly glad I stuck with it and when Mike makes his choice—loyalty to the force or to his lover (and yeah, it’s odd that this is a singular lover)—I was genuinely wrapped up in the story. It gave me the wherewithal to finish, even though my interest diminished again somewhat. I don’t feel like this was a gratuitous polyamorous story, but I also don’t think the main purpose Truswell is going for is addressing or exploring polyamory. It’s a story about a hardnose cop who happens to have multiple committed relationships. If that sounds appealing and you enjoy stories that highlight police work (and don’t mind the acronyms), you’d enjoy this book.