Zain spent most of his younger years in Syria fleeing from something—hunger, bombings, air raids, and even his friend and roommate, Qashim. Qash was obsessed with Zain, but not in a sexual way; instead, theirs was more like a predatory relationship with Qash wanting control of Zain’s every moment. When the bombs destroying Aleppo killed Zain’s mother and twin sisters, his father took him to the hospital where he worked and tried to keep them safe. But even there the destruction of Zain’s beloved home continued and took his father from him. With that, Zain traveled countless miles through dangerous times to get to London where he could realize his one dream of following in his father’s footsteps as a doctor.
Roman’s father worked for Arkady, a man whose dubious business ventures often meant he needed a bodyguard and chauffeur—a perfect job for Roman’s dad who was former police. Roman didn’t mind Arkady so much, but Arkady’s son, Dima, was a spoiled brat who seemed to take delight in torturing Roman as often as he could. Then, a bomb that destroyed Arkady’s car forever changed Roman’s life. Years later, he would be part of the man’s murky business and living in London, still cleaning up messes that Dima made—except now they were more in the realm of murder and sex trafficking and Roman wasn’t sure if he would ever really be free from a life of crime again—a life he never wanted.
In a city where anyone can easily disappear if they choose not to be found, these two men meet. The icy wall of indifference Roman built around himself comes tumbling down, just as Zain’s worry and discomfort over being gay is swept away by an enigma of a man who will soon become Zain’s entire life.
Whatever It Takes by Barbara Elsborg is a novel of intrigue, espionage, and romance. Mired in a world he never wanted, Roman was a fixer for the man who tried to do his best by him after Roman’s father was murdered. But all things come at a price and looking after the twisted and loathsome Dima was just one of the price tags Roman would have to live with. However, when a car cleanup brings Zain into Roman’s life, things change and Roman feels his grasp on remaining free of any emotional attachments slipping through his fingers. For Zain, the idea that he can love freely and be sexual when his Muslim religion denies and condemns men such as himself is a revelation that brings incredible joy to the younger man. Roman is everything Zain wants—even if he is caught in a web of violence and crime.
This novel was really quite good. The threat of being discovered as the spy he is and Zain’s being in the wrong place at the wrong time mean that for a good part of this novel Zain and Roman are on the run, hiding in plain sight and trying not to get killed. The criminal aspects of this story, the espionage, and the storyline that included Dima and Qash was definitely on the edge-of-your-seat type action. I particularly liked that the author didn’t make it easy for Roman to escape the world he’d been tied to for so long and that Zain was not some naïve idealist who felt Roman could simply walk away from the life he had been forced into. Then there was the incredible chemistry between Zain and Roman that was absolutely scorching and so much fun. I loved how Zain made even sex something that was light and passionate and brought Roman out of his head and into a space where he could just breathe and enjoy himself.
I think if there was one thing I could have changed about this novel it may have been the occasional lengthy explanations and descriptive scene setting moments that I felt were there to slow down the action, but instead just made me frustrated over how they seemed to be tossed in at the most inopportune moments. I appreciated that we learned about the rocks that Roman loves to collect and that we were given a sense of what places looked like as Roman and Zain traveled to them, but sometimes these just went on for way too long and slowed the pace of the novel for me. Even so, this was a minor annoyance and could not take away too much from the overall excellence of the story and the romance between these two men.
Whatever It Takes is an exciting ride through dangerous waters with a happy ever after that left very little to chance or any unfinished business. Zain and Roman fought hard to be together and make sure their ending was a happy and secure one.