Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: M/M Romance, Romantic Suspense
Series: Cole McGinnis #1
Length: 216 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: July 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
Cole Kenjiro McGinnis, ex-cop and PI, is trying to get over the shooting death of his lover when a supposedly routine investigation lands in his lap. Investigating the apparent suicide of a prominent Korean businessman’s son proves to be anything but ordinary, especially when it introduces Cole to the dead man’s handsome cousin, Kim Jae-Min.
Jae-Min’s cousin had a dirty little secret, the kind that Cole has been familiar with all his life and that Jae-Min is still hiding from his family. The investigation leads Cole from tasteful mansions to seedy lover s trysts to Dirty Kiss, the place where the rich and discreet go to indulge in desires their traditional-minded families would rather know nothing about.
It also leads Cole McGinnis into Jae-Min’s arms, and that could be a problem. The death of Jae-Min’s cousin is looking less and less like a suicide, and Jae-Min is looking more and more like a target. Cole has already lost one lover to violence he’s not about to lose Jae-Min too.
In the story, Dirty Kiss is a place, a surprisingly not-seedy nightclub where men in the Los Angeles Asian community can pretend that being gay is their normal life, when in fact they are pretending to be straight, at least on the outside and in front of their families.
It’s also a metaphor for the way that multiple families feel about the gay members of their families, and how some traditionalists believe that being gay is transmitted, as opposed to being born in.
And this is a family story, about the ties that bind, and the ties that strangle, both literally and figuratively. Both the protagonists in this story are reacting to their families and dealing with the reaction from them.
Last but not least, there is a deadly plot in motion to kill everyone who might know one particular family’s dirty secret, a plot that may victimize both the protagonists.
Cole McGinnis doesn’t act as though his being gay is a dirty secret. In fact, it is not a secret at all, something that has cost him more than he ever expected to pay. His Japanese/Irish Catholic father has cut off all ties with him, but Cole maintains a relationship with his brother Mike. And dad gets regular updates about Cole from his brother.
But Cole is a former police officer. His police partner shot and killed his domestic partner, then turned the gun on himself. His best friend and his lover were taken from him in an instant, and he still doesn’t know why his partner snapped. He just knows that he has both the physical and the emotional scars left to deal with. He’s pretty good about taking care of the physical scars; the emotional ones, not so much.
After the settlement from the police department left him much more than solvent, Cole took up private investigation as a way of exercising his desire to solve mysteries AND still have a reason for getting out of bed every morning. It mostly works.
The case his brother hands him should be an easy one. A Korean-American family wants someone to be certain that their only son really did commit suicide, even if he did it within the embarrassing confines of the Dirty Kiss nightclub.
All, of course, is not as it seems. The more Cole digs, the less likely it seems that Kim Hyun-Shik killed himself. Especially when everybody (perhaps that should be every body) who might possibly have any information for Cole winds up dead.
The person who seems to have as many lives as his own cat is Kim Jae-Min, the deceased’s cousin. Jae-Min, treated by his family as the ultimate poor relation, seems to know more about his cousin’s business, his cousin’s life, and the Dirty Kiss club more than is good for him if he wants to survive.
But something about Jae-Min draws Cole out of his self-imposed isolation, even though it is obvious to Cole that Jae-Min is keeping no end of crucial secrets to himself. His continuous lies of omission should damn any relationship before it starts, but Cole just gets more intrigued.
Although if Cole doesn’t put it all together soon, their relationship will end with both of their deaths, as a murderer gets away.
Escape Rating B+: Dirty Kiss is a marvelous character-driven story; things happen because the characters are fully developed and can’t act other than the way they must.
A big part of the appeal of the story is Cole’s first-person perspective; we see the world through his eyes, and hear his thoughts. He’s a confused, sad and slightly tormented person with a sarcastic sense of humor. He tells it like it is, except when he tries to look into his own grief. Then he does what most of us do and tries to pretend it’s not there.
His circle of friends and family is fascinating. His relationship with his brother Mike is complex and filled with a sense of love and obligation on both sides. They drive each other crazy, and sometimes they don’t like each other much, but they are both aware of how much they love each other.
Cole’s relationship with his best friend, the retired police officer Bobby. Bobby is from a different generation of cop, one who stayed in the closet for the sake of his career. Now that he’s out of the police force, he is definitely out of the closet. There is irony in their relationship, that Cole was more out when he was a cop but is much less in-your-face about it than the formerly secretive Bobby.
Every PI needs someone to mind the office, and Cole has Claudia. an African American grandmother who bosses Cole around every bit as much as she does her sons and grandsons. There’s love and caring and a lot of pushy snark; Claudia calls everything like she sees it and doesn’t take BS from anyone, not even her employer.
Jae-Min is a mysterious young man. He’s beautiful, but he also keeps a lot of secrets and hides a lot of scars. His whole life is dependent on his continuing to pretend that he’s either not gay or that it is a phase he is going through. It’s not just that his mother and sister will cut him off if he comes out, it’s that he is supporting them and if he comes out, they will feel obligated to refuse his help. And Jae-Min really is from the poor branch of the family and his sister and mother absolutely need his assistance.
You would think that a PI would want a relationship where there is honesty, but Cole seems happy with the mystery that is Jae-Min. The romantic part of the story ends in a Happy for Now, because Jae-Min feels obligated to his family.
One of the funniest characters in the story is Jae-Min’s cat Neko. Neko means “cat” in Korean, so Jae-Min has named his cat, Cat. But Neko is a force in her own right, converting the formerly cat-skeptical Cole into a reluctant but effective cat-servant.