Rating: 4 stars
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Enzo didn’t mean to kill the man … but he didn’t not mean to kill him, either. The asshole was assaulting a woman — more of a girl, really — and whether or not she was a sex worker doesn’t matter. Then, rather than take his beating as he should, the guy drew a knife, so it’s not really Enzo’s fault he killed him. You don’t start waving a knife around like a wanna-be serial killer and expect any self-respecting man not to put you down like the rabid dog you are. Only … this dog ends up being the son of the DA. So, whoops?
Enzo’s father took the news about as well as could be expected. There was a lot of yelling, anger, frustration, and then — because his father knows a man; being the head of a mafia family, he knows a lot of men — a solution. With one phone call and a bit of cash, Ghost is summoned. The Ghost is a fixer, a man who makes problems disappear, but even he’s going to have problems with this one.
Ghost is a standalone dark romance taking place in a mafia household. There are mentions of violence, betrayal, misogyny, homophobia, terrible parenting, and murder. This is also a romance, taking place between two adult men who have tastes that include BDSM, pain, knife and blood play, and a small bit of blackmail. However, none of it is gratuitous or done for shock value. Everything here is a tool used to advance the story. However, if you are sensitive to any of these, you may want to avoid this book.
Enzo is gay. He knows he’s gay. He’s always known, but being the heir to a mafia family, he’s not exactly able to act on it. He’s also dreading the day his father decides he needs to settle down and marry and start the next generation of the family. His father does, of course, know about Enzo’s tastes — it’s where he gained one of his more visible scars — but so long as Enzo behaves, his father doesn’t have to do anything about it. For so many years, Enzo has kept his head down, his sexuality hidden, and his kinks even more deeply hidden. Until the Ghost. Until Echo.
Echo is a sociopath. He’s calculating, manipulative, methodical, and loyal only to himself. It doesn’t matter to him which family calls for his help or what they want him to do so long as they have the money. And, so long as they respect his neutrality. Echo doesn’t take sides and he doesn’t get involved. But watching Enzo go stir crazy under house arrest — the displaced energy, the fretting, the emotional volatility — is fun to watch. And even more fun to take advantage of. And, having done a long and thorough look into Enzo’s life, his porn, his favorite foods, which hand he uses to shave in the morning, Echo knows exactly what buttons to push. And isn’t it interesting that Enzo somehow manages to push a few buttons of his own?
This story is nicely balanced between plot and sex. Enzo’s life as a fixer is glanced at, showing just how much work it is, how manly people he has working for him, and how it isn’t just a matter of making a body vanish, anymore. There are witnesses to be bribed (or done away with), security footage to be altered or erased, friends and family to be encouraged to all tell the same story, and the media to be avoided or used as necessary. But the author doesn’t dwell on the specifics, leaving Echo’s world as much a mystery as he is, with only hints to add depth to the world and the character.
Enzo’s father and his life as a member of a mafia family are also only sketched in, giving just enough detail to support the plot and the conflict without having all of it take over, keeping the emotional focus on Echo and Enzo’s growing need for one another. Enzo has finally found someone who knows every part of him and doesn’t turn away from it, doesn’t shun him for being gay, but instead embraces him (literally as well as figuratively) and encourages him to take up more room, to be free with himself. After all, if this mafia thing doesn’t work out, he can just be Echo’s kept pet. And, for Echo, here’s someone who sees what he is — which is a form of monster — and thinks, fuck it. Fuck me. Enzo doesn’t need Echo’s money, doesn’t want to just lie back and be catered to. He wants to stand shoulder to shoulder with Echo, and it’s novel.
The writing is good, though there is a reliance on tell-don’t-show, especially when it comes to setting up Echo as the powerful and calculating monster he’s meant to be; however, the characterization is strong. The pacing is tight, never lingering on unnecessary moments and always with an eye to keeping both the plot and the romance in equal balance. This is the first entry in the DiFiore Mafia Family series, and I am very, very curious to see where the next book takes me.