I think I’ve struck gold with this series. The first book in the Cole McGinnis Mystery series by Rhys Ford, Dirty Kiss, sat overlooked and unloved on my TBR shelf for a long time. This happens sometimes to me, I’ll buy a book because I’ve heard such wonderful things about it and as soon as something shiny and new, or just recently published, comes along I read that one first. Then when I finally do get to reading something from my TBR list I find a treasure. Something that I think to myself…”why the hell did I wait so long to read this one?” I picked this book to review because of the fact that I’ve had the first book in the series sitting and waiting on me, I thought I could read both of these stories back to back. Thank goodness, this turned out to be a delightful surprise.
This series has the funniest opening scenes of any series I’ve read in a while. When the story opens Cole is sitting in the parking lot on a freebie stake-out outside a sex shop. You’ll never guess what happens next… When he gets home he is visited by Scarlett, his Filipino cross-dressing friend who asks him to take a job looking into the disappearance of a man who was once her best friend and her lover’s nephew. Park Dae Hoon disappeared during a raid on a Korean bath house ten years earlier and no one seems to know what happened to him. He has two sons, one who is getting married shortly and the other who is gay like his father and has had quite a few difficulties of his own because of it. When Cole starts to investigate he realizes that Park Dae Hoon had a blackmail scheme going in which he was taking money in exchange for keeping the secrets of other Korean gay men in town. The deeper he delves into Park Dae Hoon he realizes his disappearing could mean murder and the suspect list is long. Cole soon becomes a target and he has no idea who is after him, only that there are casualties all around him.
This isn’t your usual romantic suspense, but then it’s not your usual m/m love story either. This series delves deep into the Korean culture and how they deal with homosexuality. These men are simply not permitted to be gay, when they come out they are completely abolished from their families like they never existed. It’s very sad. There is this entire subculture where they buy into sex clubs for the purpose of having relations with other men, but it seems like if they marry and carry on with the family line by having children then those activities are overlooked. But they never actually get to be who they are for fear of losing everything they have. Cole is a gay man who went through telling his family he was gay when he was younger and he lost his father and the only mother he’s ever known because of it, but he still has his brother and his brother’s wife. He didn’t completely lose his family, just he close minded ones. Jae’s story is different. He’s very worried about being himself and being open with his relationship with Cole. At the end of book one they had a happy for now ending, with Jae agreeing to still seeing each other, but hesitantly. He doesn’t want his mother to find out he is gay since he is also supporting her and his siblings and he worries how they will get by if he is outed.
Jae and Cole’s relationship moved forward quite a bit in Dirty Secret. Cole is so unapologetic about being who he is, and has surrounded himself with people who are either gay themselves or accept him for who he is. He is also getting over the tragic shooting death of his lover, so he and Jae start out both carrying baggage into the relationship. I keep worrying that Jae will break his heart eventually. Can Cole really ever get him to get over how he feels about outing himself to his family? This an entire culture that Cole is battling to gain the commitment of his lover. As much as I enjoy their smoking hot sexy scenes, and when I say smoking hot I mean SMOKING HOT, I also like seeing the banter between the two of them, and the trust and love starting to develop. At the end of this book I think they are in a place where the HEA is possible for them. Cole goes through some very intense, personal confrontations with his family and Jae handles him in a very adept, caring way.
There is a truly well told mystery in this plot line. I think Cole gets away a little too much for someone who seems to be the target all the time, but I adore him. He has great dialogue and makes me laugh. I was surprised at the ending, and really didn’t have a clue until the very end. The only thing I would say is the Korean names confused me a bit, and amount of Korean gay men that Cole meets seems a little much. I don’t think you have to read them together, Dirty Secret can be read as a stand alone, but I would say that you won’t get to see how much their relationship has grown unless you read book one first. The teaser at the end of the book left me greatly anticipating the next installment. I can’t wait until I get to visit with Cole and Jae again.
“Suppose I run to you, and you’re not there?”
“I’ll be there, babe.” I promised. “You have to have faith in someone. I know it’s fucking hard. And if I let you down, then you have my express permission to kick my damned ass, because it would be the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Hell, it’s probably the biggest scary thing in the whole damed world after someone’s kicked in your teeth, but have faith in me. Let me… love you. Please just let me love you.”