Reviewed by Helyce
Cole and Jae Min have just settled into a somewhat comfortable exploration of their new relationship when Cole gets hired by Scarlet to try and find out what really happened to Park Dae-Hoon nearly 20 years ago when a Korean men’s club was raided. Dae-Hoon was a good friend of Scarlet and though they were both at the club that night, no one knows what became of him as he was never seen again. Now, with his son David getting married his other son, Shin-Cho, wants to find out what really happened that night.
As soon as Cole is on the case, though, bullets start flying and innocent people are dying. The rich Korean families do not want any of their secrets revealed. Being gay is fine, as long as it’s behind closed doors and doesn’t touch the family’s reputation. Get caught and you risk being shunned by your family; a risk that is too much for some. It’s all about business and money and one’s happiness does not figure into that equation. But once Cole starts, he can’t give up and he continues to research even when his own life is put at risk. As he gets closer, the stakes get higher and as more facts are revealed he’s able to put the pieces together to some very surprising results.
I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Dirty Kiss, so I was thrilled to be able to read this sequel. Cole and Jae-Min meet in book one, but Jae-Min, who is Korean, struggles with being openly gay. There is too much at risk for him. He does not want to lose his family, so he hides it-something Cole has a lot of trouble with. Cole is openly gay and he’s already lost his dad and step mom because of it. But living a lie is not something Cole can do, so he’s moved on. For Jae Min, though, he’s willing to step back a little and try and understand exactly what Jae Min is going through. He’s too special and he cares too much for him.
This story picks up right at the point where Jae Min and Cole are comfortably exploring their relationship. Jae Min is still very cautious and isn’t into PDAs and Cole is trying to be supportive. We learn so much more about both Cole and Jae Min in this story and we get a lot of information with respect to the Korean culture and their family and business infrastructure. It’s a uniquely woven mixture where the line between business and family is so fine, it’s very difficult to discern at times.
Unfortunately, the Korean culture is not the only one with the closed views on homosexuality. Cole McGinnis who is part Japanese does not have a relationship with his father and his step mother since he came out. In an extremely difficult to read while at the same time being an impossibly touching scene, the author plays out a horrific family get together at Cole’s brother’s house where Cole has to once again hear ugliness from not only his dad and step mother, but from his much younger half sister who at only 5 clearly has heard just exactly what her father has said about her half brother. While completely disturbing and hurtful, it really put into perspective exactly what these young men go through when personal choices do not mix with familial obligations. This poignant scene was incredibly well done.
I was pulled into this story from the get go. The mystery surrounding Dae-Hoon’s disappearance is a big part of the story of course, but it kind of runs in the background as we meet many characters from Scarlet and Dae-Hoon’s pasts and get a good feel for what it must have been like 20 years ago; young, in love, but having to hide all the time. There is a lot of bloodshed and innocent people are hurt and some die in the process; all to keep the secret of being gay so as not to bring shame to the family.
While I really enjoyed this story, I have to say that the Korean names of the characters were really difficult to keep straight. So much so, that I found myself paging back a number of times to make sure I understood who was who and what that character’s role was. It did not ruin the story for me, but I admit to being somewhat confused on occasion and feeling a bit lost. I attempted to take notes, but gave up rather quickly and decided it was too difficult as well.
What I really enjoyed was watching the relationship between Jae-Min and Cole develop. In spite of Jae-Min’s continued family worries, the couple moves forward quite a bit in this book and the relationship definitely moves toward a stronger commitment between these two.
While there is quite a bit of blood and gore, there are some incredibly funny moments that break up the heavy subject matter at just the right times. The opening scene alone will have you laughing out loud. Cole’s secretary, Claudia and his friend Bobby bring their own special brand of humor to the story and keep us laughing too.
The mystery is wrapped up while the author leaves us with a clever and well placed cliffhanger to lead us into book 3. I simply can’t wait.