Tony Bricker and Max Hixson have only ever known life as part of the Mancini mafia. Tony and Max grew up together and have been the closest of friends. They did everything together growing up, including learning the art of torture, and their inventive skills with gardening tools earned them the nickname, The Gardeners. Tony and Max were proud to be part of the Mancini family and they thrived in getting the job done.
That all changed three years ago when Max kissed Tony and Tony shut Max out. Max left town to work, but when their uncle, the head of the family, calls Max back home, it’s to an icy reception from Tony.
They men have to work together once again to save their cousin Val, who has been abducted, and they have to put their issues to rest. But, Max can’t help his reaction to Tony and Tony doesn’t want to talk about the growing attraction he feels for his best friend. In the midst of violence and the threat of a mob war, Tony and Max will learn just how strong their bond truly is.
Where other mafia books I have read in the genre have little on page violence and has one or both of the main characters looking for a way out, The Gardeners breaks free from that format. Max and Tony are loyal to the family and have no intention or interest in leaving. They take pride in their work and are trusted by the family. There is also plenty of violence to be had here and Tony and Max’s torture skills are shown in full display.
The story opens after the men have not seen each other for three years. Max is in love with Tony, but Tony insists often that he is not gay and has no interest in rebuilding their friendship. When the men are ordered to work together, Tony’s thoughts shift as he realizes he is indeed attracted to Max, but still he tells himself he’s not gay. That’s about the extent of any discussion on Tony’s sexuality: him insisting he’s not gay, but then being attracted to Max.
The men do have great chemistry together, both in the bedroom and out. They have worked together for years and can read each other so well and they are the perfect team. A good portion of the book is the two men finding family member, Val, who has been abducted, and then the fallout of making those involved pay. Tony and Max’s torture skills get plenty of page time as they demonstrate how they earned the nickname the Gardeners, and the violence feeds into their arousal for each other
There is a lot of repetition in the book. The book is called The Gardeners, it’s the nickname for the guys, but that term is used to extreme amounts in the book along with several other words that are horribly overused. For a mafia book, there is zero homophobia, which by itself is great, but less believable as the story is told that the head of the family is fully on board with their relationship. We are given point of view from both Tony and Max, but the shift was often haphazard as we would be with one character only to have the point of view shift from one paragraph to the next. Once I became familiar with the format, I was able to follow along, but the transitions were not smoothly accomplished.
The book also lost continuity for me along the way. It started as a second chance, friends to lovers book, but then the relationship was soon shown as matter of fact to make room for the violence, as well as the set up of bringing Val into the family and then the next book in the series. There was also mention of trauma in the past for one of the guys, but then there was no further storyline to that.
The book was okay for me. There were areas that worked with other areas that didn’t work as well and needed more polishing. But, if you are looking for a mafia book with violence and a setup for a series, this might be worth a look.