Lonely assistant professor Miguel is just about ready to give up on finding love. None of the apps have led to any meaningful connections. In fact, his profile largely gets ignored. Miguel gives himself a break from the relationship platforms for a week and only logs in one last time to disable the accounts. Except this time, he actually has a message from a stunningly attractive young man named Shamus. With his heart on his sleeve, Miguel decides to give online romance one last shot. In a matter of days, he finds himself riding the high of a whirlwind romance. Showered with affection and attention and burning with attraction, things move quickly in the span of mere days. But then, a dangerous job calls his Shamus away to Afghanistan. Overcoming the fear of losing the most important man in his life is difficult. But when Shamus starts asking for money, gift cards, and gifts of technology, Miguel wonders if his one true love is all that real.
14 Hours and 23 Minutes by Tom Munroe is a romance set primarily in America, with a handful of scenes set in Afghanistan. The narration is all third-person omniscient and primarily from Miguel’s point of view, but there are a smattering of times when we see things through Shamus’ eyes. Indeed, the story opens with an exciting shoot out from Shamus’ perspective. This and the later snippets from his POV help make Shamus a sympathetic character for me. It’s clear he’s being honest about where he is and Shamus’ narration often helps flesh out the reasons why he needs Miguel’s financial help, if only temporarily. However, this insight didn’t really do anything to create a sense of angst when I read how Miguel reacts to Shamus’ being out of the country, on a dangerous mission, unable to contact home, and needing an ever-growing number of expensive favors. If anything, I just felt sympathy for Miguel who increasingly felt like he was being taken advantage of. That is, after a six-day courtship conducted through a dating app, Shamus gets shipped out and all the favors start coming in. I was less interested in finding out what would happen with their desperate love affair and more interested in the logistics of a military contractor trying to get paid.
Miguel and Shamus find each other through a dating app. Both men are frustrated with the lack of suitable partners and are just about to give up entirely when they find each other. As far as I can tell, this is what brings them together. Still, they fit into an opposites attract trope. Miguel is shy about initiating anything because he feels he’s not as attractive as everyone else he seems to meet through the apps. He’s frugal because his job doesn’t pay much. He wears his heart on his sleeve because he keeps accepting Shamus’ explanations, even after Miguel hears news about scams that are exactly like the favors Shamus is asking for. He comes across as a pretty average Joe type character. By contrast, Shamus is breathtakingly handsome and has an important job that takes him to dangerous areas. He’s pretty blunt about what he wants and needs. So when it comes to needing someone to spot him a few gift cards, a new iPad, act as a point of contact to receive an international shipment of precious metal, he just explains to Miguel what he needs.
The dynamic between Miguel and Shamus wasn’t very satisfying for me. I had a hard time getting into the dating app, instalove idea. These two exchanged heartfelt “I love yous” the second night they chatted. They don’t meet face to face until quite late in the book. Once Shamus ships out to Afghanistan, their dynamic sharply shifts into Shamus needing an expensive favor that Miguel doesn’t know if he can afford. It was quite the shift. I didn’t like how it seemed like Shamus was guilting or manipulating Miguel into paying for things like gift cards and tech items. This topic also occupied a lot of page time with Shamus explaining what he needed, why he needed it, that Miguel was the only person who could help, etc. Again, because so much of the story is from Miguel’s point of view, it was so easy to sympathize with how worried Miguel was that Shamus was a scammer.
Midway, while Shamus is still in Afghanistan, these two begin a sexual relationship. Like the expensive favors, this development felt like Shamus was sort of putting Miguel on the spot, almost demanding they have cyber sex. It just felt like there wasn’t nearly enough of a connection (let alone anything like a real relationship) to explain why Shamus was so comfortable leaning so heavily on Miguel for help or enough of a spark to prop up their sex scenes. Though it did reinforce Miguel’s insecurities about his physical appearance and, I suppose, gave these two one other thing to attract them to each other: Miguel is hairy and Shamus is into that.
Overall, 14 hours and 23 Minutes was an okay read. I was interested in how an absent lover (Shamus) relying on financial help from his new lover (Miguel) would play out. I wasn’t expecting this dynamic to boil down to multiple conversations about dollar value. The angst over Miguel having his lover in a foreign country doing a dangerous job felt like a distant second to the cost of an iPad. The opposites attract element was nice. Miguel is clearly an Every Man to Shamus’ Hot Guy. It just wasn’t really clear what actually attracted them to each other beyond frustration with playboys on dating apps, I suppose. If you like stories that feature couples arguing over money or anything that involves military-adjacent characters (or assistant professors, though Miguel’s job doesn’t really feature into the plot), then you may enjoy this story.