IT’S ALL ABOUT FAMILY
As we begin this book, the last in the saga of Jory Harcourt and Sam Kage, the story line has advanced about four years since the events of “Bulletproof.” During these years, Jory and Sam have adopted two children, a boy and a girl, from countries outside the US, have rescued a psychotic cat from the shelter and have bought a home.
The first pages introduce us to the children and their histories while Jory is getting them ready for school. As he is returning home from dropping them off, Jory finds himself in a traffic gridlock. While helping a frightened woman with a baby, he finds himself caught between a pedestrian swinging a tire iron and an irate driver swinging a fist. With multiple but minor injuries, Jory winds up in the ER.
When Sam enters the cubicle that contains both Jory and his attending physician, both Sam and Jory get their respective worlds leveled. It seems that the doctor, Kevin Dwyer, had been Sam’s lover for three months during Sam’s two-year undercover op in Columbia. But years ago, after the op, when Sam and Jory reconciled, Sam did not tell Jory about Dwyer, just admitting to a few one-night stands instead. And now, Kevin makes no secret of wanting Sam back
At this point, and we are only on the first page of Chapter Two, the book begins its inexorable slide downhill into mediocrity. First, the promotional blurb for the book builds this ex-lover angle up as a serious emotional threat to Jory. Nothing could be further from the truth. Within five pages, Sam has explained all – not only the relationship but the very plausible and realistic reason for the lie of omission. And Jory is satisfied, no tantrums, no running, no ultimatums. Even as the doctor crops up repeatedly in the storyline, he is never an emotional threat to the Harcourt/Kage relationship.
The next point deduction comes from the slant the book takes after the “good doctor” scenario is resolved. An ongoing case for Sam becomes violent and that violence spills over onto Jory and the children. But instead of developing this case in detail, Mary Calmes shoves Sam into a quasi-undercover role, pulls the case away from the reader and focuses on Jory’s day-to-day struggles while Sam is gone.
And in doing so, Calmes converts a romantic suspense into a self-help manual for gay male couples raising children. She covers everything from temper tantrums, pranks in school, and corporal punishment to blatant relationship questions, homophobic jabs in front of children and physical abuse by teachers and the parents of peers. While as a parent and as a teacher with 30 years in the classroom, I agree with virtually every point she makes, that was not what I thought I was paying to read.
And finally, Calmes did, near the end of the novel, what seems to be her classic trademark in this series: she crafts an emotionally laden scenario that is based in a blatantly false premise. In this instance, we learn that the current events involving Sam go all the way back to the first pages of the first book in the series, 13 years in the story’s past, to when Jory is witness to a cartel murder. The drug kingpin, who slipped from Sam’s grasp during that long ago Columbian undercover operation, has tried to kidnap Jory twice. The multi-agency task force is 99% sure of the real identity of the kingpin, so they convince Jory to let himself be “taken,” wired for sound, in an attempt to get the kingpin to incriminate himself. As expected, the kingpin’s ego takes over, Jory gets the confession, and the task force immediately moves in. And here is where Calmes makes it all go wrong – Jory is handcuffed along with the bad guys and put in a small room with the kingpin and several of his associates.
Oh, please! In the first place, every task member knows who Jory is and why he is there – they escorted him there! He would not have been handcuffed; he would have been escorted out, de-wired, and de-briefed. Secondly, none of the suspects would have been allowed within earshot of each other, let alone dumped into the same holding area, so that supporting alibis could not be manufactured. And thirdly, the victim – Jory – would hardly be forced into the same room, particularly handcuffed, with the person who had tried to kidnap and murder him. But Calmes did all of this just so that Jory could have the emotional last word regarding Sam.
At this point, I believe I’ll pass on any other books by Mary Calmes. Even though I enjoyed the saga of Jory and Sam in the broad sense, I don’t want to pay good money for, nor invest precious reading time in, further works using literary devices that mock the reader’s good sense and intelligence.
Cover Art from Goodreads