Author: James Lear
Publisher: Cleis Press
Cover Artist: Cleis Press
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 09/08/2015
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Gay Fiction, M/M Romance
Who is trying to kill the members of an elite special ops team that worked off the radar in Iraq in the ’90s? It’s up to Dan Stagg to track down the survivors — the men with whom he stormed an undefended surveillance station, killing everyone inside. And now, many years later, the team is being targeted in what seems like a series of unrelated attacks.
Dan teams up with his old comrade Al Benson, once a rising star of the USMC, now a respectable married civilian with a few secrets to hide. As they dig deeper into the secrets of the past, Dan discovers that Benson’s looking for more than just answers. An explosive affair threatens everyone’s future, and connects Dan to a past he thought he’d left behind.
Boy, oh, boy. Beverley and Brandilyn have been having fun with me; sending me books that push all my buttons. Or, I suppose I should say, hit all my triggers.
James Lear’s “Straight Up” seems to be the finale of a two-part series about Dan Stagg, a major in the marines who gave his all for his country and then got pushed out of the service on the wrong side of DADT. He’s a little bitter about that, for several reasons, and has every right to be.
Lear doesn’t give you romance. He’s a great writer. Terse, correct, smart and salted with just enough wry humor to keep it from getting grim. His characters are intense and vivid, particularly his star, Dan Stagg. Lear writes sexy sex. No nonsense, no blather, but not porn or dull repetition either. He’s really good at this. Stagg is arrogant, but broken; sure of his sexuality but unable to really grapple with love. He is sure that any straight man can be had.
And there’s the rub: Dan Stagg is a macho bastard who cheats on his fey, fashion-student lover (without an open relationship). He encourages closeted gay men to cheat on their wives. He taps anything that catches his eye and has made seducing supposedly straight boys an art at which he excels.
Dan Stagg is young enough to be my son, and he’s the kind of gay man for whom I have no respect, the kind of gay man I’ve spent my life as a gay man avoiding. His sacrifice in the marines is no excuse, nor is his mistreatment at the hands of our government. He behaves badly and at moments makes me ashamed of being gay.
And yet, as with Lear’s first Stagg novel, “The Hardest Thing,” I liked Dan Stagg. A lot. This is Lear’s gift as an author. He’s good at wringing every bit of inner, self-critical good out of Dan Stagg. For all my dislike of what he does and the way he lives, Dan Stagg earns my sympathy. His internalized pain and loss, his intense feelings of self-disgust, his guilt at his cheating and dislike of closeted gays who marry to hide; somehow the honesty of his thoughts mitigates the dishonesty of his actions.
“They were guaranteed to fail. And that was what I wanted, because that’s what I thought I’d deserved. That’s what I deserve.”
He doesn’t quite forgive himself for who he is, which makes it possible for me to forgive him, just a little.
The mystery plot is anxiety inducing and tense, and Stagg is heroic and brave in all the ways you’d expect a marine (or James Bond) to be. At the end of the book, I wished him well, and hoped for a future that was brighter than the life he’d lived up to then.
The ending of the book felt like an ending. It didn’t seem to suggest a third episode in the Dan Stagg mysteries – but maybe James Lear will surprise me again. Maybe I’ll even read it.
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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