Reviewed by: Ulysses Dietz
Member of The Paranormal Guild Review Team
I have only read one other Marie Sexton book, and the cryptic-but-positive review I left for it makes it clear that I liked her writing a lot.
So it remains with this book, part of her popular Coda series, set in a small town in Colorado. Her main players, Jared Thomas and Matt Richards, are in their early thirties, but are surrounded by a vivid cast of supporting actors including parents, siblings, sisters-in-law and a best friend. Oddly enough, although this is book 1 in the series, there are several later books that were published years ago. Clearly Sexton is working her way, Star-Wars-like, through a complex narrative involving the lives of a bunch of young gay men. This is the kind of series I tend to like – because each book stands on its own while incorporating people one remembers and likes from other books.
The classic romance wrinkle here, aside from a handsome young man trapped in a small town, is that Matt, newly arrived in Coda as a policeman, is straight. Or, at least, says so vehemently. Perhaps too vehemently. Jared’s fine with that, because he is desperate for a friend to do guy things with – all those athletic, outdoorsy things I have spent my life avoiding. The fact that Jared falls for big butch Matt is no surprise (I mean, really, we know how this works!); the surprise, and the source of the pain and angst in this story, is that Matt continues to send very mixed signals.
And here’s where Sexton’s skill as a storyteller and writer really kicks in. This tired old trope of the man in denial always sets my teeth on edge. In the 21st century, deeply closeted guys who are young enough to be my sons push every bad button I have.
Honestly, I should have lost patience with both Matt and Jared because of their hale-fellow-well-met jockiness. Ugh. Boys like me never had jocks as friends. However, Jared is a Kinsey 6, a gold-star gay, which made him appealing to me, and his contrast with Matt more interesting. And even better, Sexton handles Matt’s mind-mess with such compassion and skill, that I found myself sharing that compassion. Jared is no doormat. He makes his choices, needing friendship more than romance. His makes him a more noble and complex character than many romance novelists can pull off. It all just works.
A special bonus is in the short story dropped in at the end, a prequel titled Meant to Be, which takes us back fifteen years to Jared’s college days, when he first meets Cole Fenton – a fey rich boy who becomes Jared’s best friend. This jewel of a story is not a romance – there is no happy ending, at least not in the conventional sense. What makes this story so rich for me is that it feels real. The experiences of these young men in college echo my own experiences at that age four decades ago. Meant to Be is a story that touches on gay men’s lives in a way that many m/m romances do not.
As a final kudo, Sexton provides all the requisite physical intimacy that her genre demands: but she does it in a way that is illuminating, sometimes amusing, and essential to the plot. So many writers fail at this, but Sexton does it just right.