Ned O’Leary has seen his share of violence. As a child, his family was ruthlessly attacked by the Gotham Boys and while Ned survived, his family did not. Now he lives with his uncle, grateful for the roof over his head, but something of an outcast among his own kin. And then he meets Cole Flores. As notorious and dangerous as he is charming, Cole offers Ned a life of freedom amongst a band of outlaws if Ned just accepts the offer. Cole is a member of the Gotham Boys and Ned sees the chance for revenge.
Ned joins with Cole and the rest of the gang, secretly working for the Pinkerton Agency and looking for the opportunity to make the Gotham Boys and especially their leader, Butcher Tom, pay for their sins. But he didn’t plan on loving Cole Flores so much he would risk the world to save him. Nor did he realize that doing so would turn him into a killer.
The Man Who Loved Cole Flores is one of those books that ended up as something of a mixed bag. The authors did a great job giving the story a strong sense of time and place and the Western “flavor” is definitely engrained in the text. Unfortunately, none of the characters are particularly likable and the pacing is weak.
So I love Westerns and always have. I’m well aware they are problematic, historically speaking, and often fail to address the realities of life at the time. But they’re tied to my childhood and so I’ve got a soft spot for them. The Man Who Loved Cole Flores does a better job than most addressing the gritty, dirty, and often bloody truth of life as an outlaw. Sometimes it felt like the authors wrote certain scenes and phrases just for a shock value that doesn’t add to the overall story, but this wasn’t a complete distraction for me.
Unfortunately, neither Cole, Ned, nor the gang they run with are particularly enjoyable characters. They’re bad people who do bad things and, while Ned starts out ok, he quickly falls into a pattern of violence that he isn’t strong enough to walk away from. And the idea that it’s all for love doesn’t make it ok and it’s doesn’t make enjoyable. It’s a bit Breaking Bad-esque and I didn’t like a lot of this book for the same reason I didn’t like that show. There comes a point when a character becomes irredeemable and, once that happens, my interest in their story dissipates. The book also has some real pacing issues as too many scenes lacked purpose or needed stronger focus in order to feel relevant.
The Man Who Loved Cole Flores is the first of two books following the relationship between two men who are willing to do anything to preserve their love for one another. There’s violence a plenty, but there’s romance as well. And I think if you enjoy morally dubious protagonists, then you’ll probably find plenty to like here.