An ex-military man, now a private “problem solver” for hire, and a diplomat with some rather shady dealings in the dark: this sounded like a story for me.
Title: Love is a Stranger
Author: John Wiltshire
Publisher: MLR Press
Cover Artist: Michelle Cary
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Loving a total stranger can be very hard work sometimes.
How do you love someone who exists entirely in the shadows? How do you love a man who describes himself as dead? How do you get that ghost to love you back? Ex-SAS soldier Ben Rider falls in love with his enigmatic married boss Sir Nikolas Mikkelsen, but Nikolas is living a lie. A lie so profound that when the shadows are lifted, Ben realises he’s in love with a very dangerous stranger. Ben has to choose between Nikolas and safety, but sometimes danger comes in a very seductive package.
By the time I arrived at the beginning of chapter 8, I felt like I was having trouble understanding both Ben and Nikolas. We’re told that Ben has been working directly for Nikolas for some time and they’re having sex from basically the beginning. Now, Ben apparently thinks he loves Nik and can help this man rediscover the “man behind the ghost” and feel the same kind of love. This is technically not insta-love but it feels like it. We’re told some things that are supposed to represent a history between these two but the feeling behind the facts didn’t quite translate. Often there is a mismatch between words and actions. Ben sometimes reads as a 20 year old kid and yet sometimes as a hardened veteran at least a decade older, if not more. The story is basically told from his point of view so it’s important that his voice be a clear one and that isn’t always the case here.
There is delicious detail in this writing. It made it very easy to picture the characters, their mannerisms, all of the locations, atmosphere, both physical and emotional, everything. On the flip side, some instances (an argument, sex, etc.) were almost glossed over, presented quickly and without a lot of detail. This was a contrast layered in frustration for me as the reader since some of the meaty exchanges were put on an unnecessary diet.
About a third of the way through, I was still waiting for the main plot to materialize. There are some small stories started, some even with semi-resolution, but none of them are revisited after the initial mention. Despite this, I kept reading because the writing does have a level of quality that I could feel just wanted to break through with something important, something fantastic. With some more directional editing, the story may have touched more of its own potential.
More often than not, the sex between Ben and Nik is briefly described or merely mentioned without any further reveal. I don’t always need every detail but when your story is centered around two people working their patooties off regarding whatever is going on between them, letting the sex scenes inform some of the emotional connection would have been a big plus. This is especially true for these two because they do use physical interactions, sexual and otherwise, to work things out between them. Things do get more detailed later on in the book, but that’s because they are interwoven with emotion and revelations between the characters.
Even with these difficulties, there are some fabulous moments of connection that I felt with both Ben and Nik. Simple gestures that spoke volumes, subtlety that opened a door to change for them in their relationship, and proof that they both were learning how to understand each other were all things that felt real and organic, not forced.
It took me awhile but then I finally figured it out: this reads like a soap opera. We have overly dramatic prose, even more emphatic dialogue, and mundane activities and random bits of action scenes to string it all together. Once it hit me, I tried to read this story as such and was able to enjoy it a bit more.
Meanwhile, I was still suffering whiplash, being tossed between haphazard language and lines of brilliance that sprang up out of nowhere. That same frustration was now having its own tug-of-war with an almost celebratory feeling towards some of the raw emotional truth these two do share a few times.
This story wanted to be dark but the overall tone isn’t there. Some of the details are but they are far outweighed by the soapy storytelling.
The big reveal is a missed opportunity in that it could have been a great jumping off point for the entire story. Instead, it happens late and therefore feels underutilized, underdeveloped. Despite this, it is actually very well done and leads to the most honest emotions between and behaviors by Ben and Nik. It’s the vicious circle of decisions made long ago, under duress, impacting the future, which is right here and right now. Rather well played. In the span of two pages, everything is turned upside down, only to land right back where it all started: the complicated, emotional world of Ben and Nik.
Ultimately, this is a relationship story that thinks it wants to be an action-y secret agent murder-y type story. Details alone will not give you such a thing, there needs to be some depth, some heft holding up the premise. However, as the reader, if you let that go and just concentrate on what’s happening between Ben and Nik, you’ll probably end up enjoying this read much more. It’s a trick that more or less worked for me. Also note that this is book one of a series, so go into this read knowing not everything is resolved at the end.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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