The Assignment, by Evangeline Anderson

>> Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Ahh, this is what I love about ebooks and about having an ebook reader! I read Bam's review of The Assignment (excerpt), by Evangeline Anderson, thought it sounded interesting, hopped over to Loose-Id, bought it, zapped it to the ebookwise and immediately read it. No waiting 6 months for it to get here, or anything like that. Delayed gratification has its points (not least that by the time I get books, I've forgotten anything the review said, so I go into them basically blind), but there's something to be said about not having to wait at all!

Detective Nicholas Valenti, tall, dark and stoic, has been best friends with his partner, Sean O'Brian for six years. The two men have seen each other through divorce, disaster and danger and saved each other's asses more times than Valenti can count. When he started seeing his blond, intense partner in another light, Valenti isn't really sure. He only knows that he wants O'Brian in a way that had nothing to do with friendship and everything to do with possession. It is a desire he will have to hide forever because O'Brian is undeniably straight.

As Valenti is struggling with his new, unacceptable feelings for his partner their police Captain puts them on a new case that could blow Valenti's cover once and for all. He and O'Brian are going undercover at the country's largest and most infamous gay resort to bust a notorious drug lord and stop the shipments of poison cocaine that are flooding the gay bars all over the city.

Now Valenti will have to make a choice between friendship and desire. He and O'Brian will play the roles of gay men that will push the limits of their relationship to the breaking point. Will their time at the RamJack forge a new bond between them or destroy their partnership forever?
So, so good! My thanks to Bam for drawing my attention to this one, it's fantastic. I'm going with a B+, but I was thisclose to giving it an A- (you'll probably understand why I went with the lower grade later).

The Assignment, in case you haven't looked closely at the cover, is male/male romance. It's the early 80s, and Detectives Nicholas Valenti and Sean O'Brian have been professional partners for years. They're great friends and totally comfortable with each other. Or at least, they were, because Valenti has a secret now. After O'Brian was stabbed and almost died, this previously totally hetero guy realized he's actually crazy in love with his partner. Too bad O'Brian is totally hetero, just as Valenti was (clue right here!) and will never, ever feel that way about him!

Anyway, since these two have always publicly shown such ease around each other, even being quite demonstrative in their hugging and touching, when a certain undercover operation comes up, their boss immediately offers it to them. The operation in question is going undercover as lovers at this really hedonistic and outrageous gay sex resort, which the police suspect is a front for drug dealing.

It's a dangerous mission, and one that requires the undercover cops in question to be very convincing. Guys uncomfortable with each other just won't do (in fact, one such pair of rival gangsters has already extremely painfully failed to do so), so the Captain knows that Valenti and O'Brian are his only choice.

When he hears about the mission, and about the fact that it might be required that they do whatever is necessary to make their roles convincing, Valenti objects. There's nothing he wants more than to get physical with O'Brian, but he doesn't know how he'll be able to handle it, knowing that O'Brian will never, ever feel that way about him. Plus, O'Brian will surely protest, right? So he'd better protest, too.

But not only doesn't O'Brian protest, he's in fact extremely enthusiastic about the mission. He's enthusiastic when they practise being gay (and you can figure out what that practise entails), and he's even more enthusiastic when they go into the RamJack and actually have to do that "whatever's necessary" to be convincing. Which is even more torturing for Valenti, because he just knows O'Brian will never, ever feel that way about him.

Was that "will never, ever feel that way about him" one too many? Hey, I'm just trying to give you the book's flavour here! O'Brien would do everything he could humanly do to get the message across to Valenti that he might not be as hetero as previously thought, but Valenti was too caught up in his pity party to notice.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved it. Even as I kept thinking "for heaven's sake, Valenti, get a clue!", I was eating it up. I loved, loved, loved Valenti's angst, I loved O'Brian's slutty drama queen impersonation, I loved the totally cheesy, "let's-see-in-how-many-crazy-suggestive-situations-these-two-can-get-stuck" plot (and the cheesy suggestive situations were plentiful and frequent), and I especially loved the way this all developed into the beginning of a sweet, lovely relationship.

Oh, and I loved the incredibly hot sex. I should mention this one definitely qualifies as erotica, or maybe romantica? The reason I find it necessary to spell this out, BTW, is that I sometimes see gay romance automatically classified as erotica, just because of the gay element, whatever the heat level or the focus of the story actually is. This pisses me off, because it's as if they're considering homosexuality as some kind of kink, and so it's therefore automatically deemed necessary to slap a kind of warning on it. I'm not making much sense, am I?

Let me try again. I read erotica and romance for different reasons. Romance I read for the emotional payoff, erotica for the turn-on (even though good erotica often provides an emotional pay-off, too). What I find offensive about the automatic labelling of gay romance as erotica is that it's as if it implies that a reader couldn't possibly be getting the warm fuzzies associated to traditional romance from gay romance. And that's just bullshit.

So where was I going with this before it turned into a rant? Oh, right. I was mentioning that this particular gay romance is romantica / erotica. Not for the simple reason that the relationship is between two men, but because while I did get my emotional pay-off from it (and boy, did I get it!), Valenti and O'Brian's relationship here is basically developed through their sexual encounters and explorations. And it works. Each scene brought the story and their relationship forward, and none felt at all gratuitous.

I highly recommend this one, and I'm going to take a good look at Anderson's backlist. There seems to be a lot of BDSM books there, which are just not my thing, but I did find a couple of promising ones!


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