Heart of the Steal Book Cover Heart of the Steal
Avon Gale and Roan Parrish
M/M Romance
Philtre Press
July 11, 2017

Review by Ulysses Dietz

Member of The Paranormal Guild Review Team

What a sexy, subversive story. William Fox is a 34-year-old FBI agent who specializes in art crimes. Imagine, an FBI agent who majored in art history (and thereby pissed off his policeman father)! His twin sister Charlotte has built her own party planning business, born from a love of tinkering in the kitchen with her twin brother. One evening, at a fancy party organized by his sister, Will meets Amory Vaughn, forty-two, the six-foot-something scion of a hugely rich Virginia family. Amory wears custom-made suits and  shoulder-length tow-colored hair.

Will, from a solid middle-class family, has never encountered anyone like Amory. Gale and Parrish plunge us right into the erotic connection between these two men, and then set the hook with Amory’s unorthodox (and illegal) follow-up with Agent Fox. You see, Vaughn doesn’t know that Will is a federal agent; and Will doesn’t know that Vaughn has a very different sense of what the rules are.

What makes this book so good for me is that Amory Vaughn is handled with great skill. Rich and rebellious, utterly spoiled and yet simultaneously driven by his liberal instincts of fairness and justice, Vaughn could have been a mess in less skilled hands. He is bisexual to Will’s gold-star-gay, another indication that his boundaries are not the same. He is worldly (or, as Will’s mother says at one point: cosmopolitan) in ways foreign to Will. He could be a complete s.o.b., and yet he isn’t—at least not intentionally. It is through the careless use of his rich-man’s superpowers that Amory offends.

Will Fox is less difficult, and yet his characters could have been ruined just as badly by stereotyping. Will and his sister had a happy, normal childhood in suburbia. They never wanted for anything essential, but were taught by example to avoid extravagance and pretension. Fox could be plodding and humorless (after all, he IS an FBI agent), but the authors choose to make him smart and insightful, even as he clings to the black-and-white clarity of the law as he was raised to see it.

Gale and Parrish nicely avoid unnecessary details that other authors use to create more “authentic” settings (which generally only succeed in setting up artificial backdrops that overshadow the characters}. Vaughn’s family estate in Falls Church becomes an important stage on which the two men’s relationship evolves; but the authors describe it in such a way as to shed light on Vaughn’s to-the-manner-born behavior.

Similarly, the sometimes-heavy-handed use of brand-names by other authors is more astutely tuned here. Vaughn is appalled by William’s bad suits, not because they make William any less appealing, but simply because Amory is a spoiled rich man. There’s a wonderful scene involving an Ermenegildo Zegna suit (one that I could only dream of owning). While this whole scene underscores Amory’s wildly different view of the world, it also makes it clear that his feelings for Will are true. We still groan slightly at what a spoiled douche Amory is (really? A $2000 suit is only “adequate”?); but we are compelled to see the love and generosity behind the actions. Amory Vaughn is what he is, warts and all.

Will Fox, by contrast, tilts toward the rigidly moralistic, horrified by his own compulsive attraction to Vaughn’s bad-boy aristocrat. He sees all the good in Vaughn, but he clings almost desperately to the things that show Vaughn’s disregard for “little people’s” rules. Will wants to dismiss Vaughn because of his wealth and his careless power; but he is too smart to do that, and it causes him no end of grief.

The sexy parts of this book are also really well done, something I appreciate more with every m/m book I read. God, I have gotten intolerant of dumbly written pro-forma sex scenes. Gale and Parrish don’t do that. Every intimate physical moment between these two men matters, moves their story forward. It is the complicated meshing of heart, mind and body that fuses Amory and Will together, and threatens them at every turn.

Only as I wrote this review did I notice that this is apparently the first of a series. Ooh.