Shana's Reviews > Life Lessons

Life Lessons by Kaje Harper
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's review
Jan 08, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction-law-enforcement, fiction-teachers-and-students, fiction-mystery-thriller, fiction-glbt
Read in January, 2012 — I own a copy

All Tony wants is to finish the chore of collecting one last box of books from his classroom when another teacher bleeds to death at his feet. When Detective MacLean--Mac--gets the call about a murder at Roosevelt High, he has no idea that his life is about to change, touched by blue eyes and a crooked smile. The case brings them together, a closeness that becomes more important when Tony begins receiving threatening notes. Tragedy brings them even closer, until Mac can no longer imagine life without Tony in it--despite the killers attempts to bring about just such a fate.

This story doesn't start out with the freshest premise. Namely: Character 1 is somehow involved in a crime and quickly becomes a suspect (a position from which he may or may not be expediently cleared). Character 2 is an investigating officer who may or may not believe in 1's innocence. 1 is out and proud, 2 is deeply closeted. Sparks fly between them and they eventually fall into bed together. 2 decides that he will do anything to keep 1 by his side, especially when it becomes apparent that 1 will be the next victim. Throw in the probable death of someone close to 1 as collateral damage and all of the points are hit.

Honestly. Probably three-quarters of the gay mysteries I've read have ticked most, if not all, of those boxes. Maybe I'm just reading all the wrong books?

That being said, I suspect it's such a common trope because, when it's done well, it works. It's unfortunately far too easy to do it poorly, but competently-written, well-planned examples of it are absolute delights. Free from having to reinvent the genre, the author is able to really stretch their wings, to build layers upon the trope until the bones of it are support for an exemplary example of flesh.

This is one of those delights.

Tony is a high school teacher who's worked hard to be accepted as a gay man. He stands up for himself and is occasionally a touch belligerent, but not without provocation. He is well-liked by most of his students and co-workers, and his characterization is such that it makes perfect sense. He's sweet and funny and exactly the type of person I would love to have for a friend.

Mac is a homicide detective who's always identified as gay but never admitted it to anyone but a string of out-of-town one-night stands. He's good at his job, grateful for what life gives him, and willing to give up almost anything to make his daughter happy--including her. Hell, I even like the way he melts down; it makes sense with his past behavior, showing a side of him hinted at but never quite revealed until then.

The chemistry between Tony and Mac is awesome. I found myself holding my breath for their first kiss, and the way they worked together both in and out of bed made me sigh--both happily and sadly. Their shared pain over the necessary obfuscation of their relationship made me wish I could give them hugs and tell them it would all work out in the end. (Never mind that I don't know this; that's what sequels are for.) I really liked that it took them a while to act upon their attraction, and that, once acted upon, they weren't constantly in each others' pants. (I'm a fan of the slow burn, if that isn't apparent.)

The supporting cast was fairly good, if mostly throwaway (at least when it came to characters not directly important to Tony or Mac). There are few enough of real significance that, when the killer finally showed up, I was able to guess it was them immediately.

Speaking of the killer... the mystery worked fairly well, but once the killer was introduced, it basically unraveled and it went from mystery to thriller. I'm actually okay with this; it allowed for more of a look into the killer's head. The way they reacted after being found out was fascinating (and a bit worrisome), and certainly something I could see given what was revealed about them. I ached for poor Tony throughout that experience, though.

Ultimately, I liked it well enough to immediately head over to purchase the sequel. (I was stymied when I remembered that I was on my Kindle Fire, through which I have no idea how to download a new document. Sigh.) I look forward to the continuing developments of Tony and Mac's relationship but strongly suspect that I'll be revisiting its beginnings, once again holding my breath for that first kiss.

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