In order to commemorate two lives cut short and to spend some time with the son he didn’t know he had until recently, English lawyer Dominic Delingpole decides to venture to Berlin, Germany. Bittersweet memories abound in the city, from the graveyard where a former lover is buried, to the streets flush with revelers enjoying Berlin’s Folsom Festival, an annual event for gay men interested in leather and rubber. However, Dominic gets distracted from his own concerns when his son, Matty, drops a hefty bomb on his father: Matty is dating a man named Alex Korovpuskov, who is not only twice Matty’s age, but also a professor at the university where Matty studies. Dominic barely manages to refrain from making any snap judgements and when he briefly gets to meet Alex, Dominic clearly sees that his son is smitten with the older man. Their meeting is cut short, however, by a domestic terrorist attack. The attack happens not far from where Dominic and Matty are waiting until they can join Alex. The attack has also targeted a gay bar that is at the epicenter of the Folsom Festival revelries. Further complicating matters is the video footage showing someone who is the spitting image of Alex engaging in what the authorities believe is illicit behavior. And, of course, as the boyfriend of a suspected terrorist, Matty soon finds himself in hot water with the German police.
Now, Dominic is in need of legal council in Germany if he is to have any hope of getting his son back. A friend of his recommends a human rights lawyer named Johann Hartmann…and the German does not disappoint. As a professional, Johann seems beyond reproach—getting an emergency hearing scheduled in order to get Matty released from police custody. But as a man, Dominic notices that Johann has a lot to offer, as well. Johann is easy on the eyes, well-connected to powerful people, and a not-so-secret fan of leather. All of which make for an enticing prospective partner. The only problem is that Dominic’s had his heart broken before and he’s not entirely sure it has healed enough to try again.
The Foreign Affair is the third book in David C. Dawson’s The Delingpole Mysteries series. First, I must state that I have not read the first two books. Second, I will opine that while I think this book COULD absolutely be read as a standalone, there are certainly events from the prior books that come into play in this book. One of them is an extremely (and I suppose unavoidably) HUGE spoiler for earlier in the series and, personally, I probably would not have read book three without reading the first two if I had an inkling of what I was getting into so I could properly enjoy how the spoiler event came to be and how it had and continues to affect Dominic. If you’re like me and may feel a bit cheated out of some reading pleasure by a built-in (and, in context, completely unavoidable) spoiler, I strongly encourage you to read the first two books before this one. For less…particular readers, I do think this story does work just fine as a standalone.
Why does this book work so well as a standalone despite being clearly part of a series? I think the characters and their life situations help tremendously. It features Dominic Delingpole, a solicitor in England who seems to be bisexual (he definitely had a romantic relationship with the woman who gave birth to Matty and says in the book he would probably have married her if things had gone differently), but most/all of his romantic and sexual relationships as an adult have been with men. There is a brief nod towards him perhaps being willing to participate in BDSM or a Dom/sub type of relationship as well. He seems to find himself in wild situations, despite not planning to put himself there. In this book, for example, he gets entangled with German law enforcement and has a scare about causing Russian authorities to take an interest in him as well. Nevertheless, he’s got a sharp mind and reasoning skills that help him cope with the fact that his son has been, for all intents and purposes, wrongfully detained. Furthermore, I think the fact that Matty is characterized as the long-lost adult son (well, he’s 19) helps this story work as a standalone. I liked that Dominic clearly has parental feelings towards his son, but has not had much practice acting on them and both he and Matty seem to be aware (to varying degrees at varying times) how much parental say-so Dominic gets. Note: Matty’s mother is a German national and it seems that Matty has been raised in Germany as a German.
Of course, the interplay between Dominic and Johann is excellent as well. Again, Dominic has had his heart absolutely broken and has half-convinced himself the experience has ruined him for any future relationships. Thus, the immediate chemistry between Johann and Dominic gives Dominic a lot to consider: if he’s ready to jump back in the saddle, if he wants to jump back in the saddle, and why he had to find such a great saddle in Germany instead of his own country of England. I thought Johann was an absolutely charming character. He’s a human rights lawyer, but has a keen interest in at least some types of fetish subcultures and seems completely at ease being out. I wasn’t sure what to make of how forward he is in demonstrating his physical attraction to Dominic (there are a few unsolicited kisses, but Dominic doesn’t seem put off by being kissed, so…). The more I encountered Johann on-page, the more I liked him. And when the plot lines surrounding Alex and the terrorist group come crashing together, I thought the author did an extremely excellent job of masking who’s actually “good” and who’s actually “bad.”
Overall, I think The Foreign Affair is an excellent read. I thought the mystery elements were fantastic and had me second guessing myself about who was really behind the gay bar attacks. Dominic’s past gets incorporated into many aspects of the book and with the one spoiler I discussed above, I thought all prior events were recapped in a way that made him more compelling as a character. The restraint Dominic shows Johann and Johann’s answering interest also made for a satisfying, slow-burn, will-they/won’t-they dynamic.