Undercover Blues by Laney Cairo – review

Rating: 6.5/10 ★★★★★★½☆☆☆ Title: Undercover Blues
Author: Laney Cairo
Genre: Police, modern, romance, m/m
URL: Torquere Press
Price: US$3.95
Other Information/warnings: violence, bad language, explicit m/m
Summary:[from publisher]
Ryan is a police officer working undercover for the organized crime unit in an Australian city. His job is to get close to the mob boss’ brother Jason, who might just lead him to bringing down the crime boss and all his cronies. Problem is, he doesn’t count on the things Jason makes him feel.

Jason knows Ryan is bad news for his family, but can’t help falling for the hot cop. Things go bad in a big way when the investigation heats up, and Jason and Ryan have to deal with danger, coming out, and figuring out if their love is worth fighting for.

My review:

Undercover work is something of a slash staple, and often enjoyable – it offers a chance for characters to slip outside their normal behaviour, lots of opportunities for angst and betrayal, not to mention hurt/comfort. All those elements are to be found in Undercover Blues, and as a purely erotic romance, it works quite well. Ryan and Jason are attractive, appealing manly men and they’re sweet and convincing together. I enjoyed that aspect of the book most of all. Yet on the whole, I thought the story didn’t work as well as it could, leaving me feeling dissatisfied at what it could have been and wasn’t. Partly this is because I had just read this author’s far superior Bad Case of Loving You, beside which almost anything else would seem inferior. However, there are problems with the story which I just couldn’t ignore.

Some of it I will freely admit are personal issues of taste. I didn’t really like the milieu of Jason’s family, and the presentation of his brother as a “‘e was nice to ‘is mum” type of guy struck me as unrealistic and rather offensive. I also find the “suddenly gay” scenario unbelievable and unlikeable. I’d have liked the story to have been longer – it was all resolved too tidily and too quickly, never really allowing me to get my teeth into it as the subject matter would have allowed. However, it’s a novella and that’s what you expect.

However, other problems I felt weren’t just taste issues. The set up – straight cop is sent undercover to seduce gay brother of supercriminal – is not only rather incredible but also ethically dubious. The resolution of the plot also seemed unlikely from several aspects. Jason’s innocence looks somewhat strained considering how much he knows about his brother’s activities and how much he benefits from them. Given the rampant homophobia in both police and criminal circles, I thought the “OKHomo” aspect of the story also  strained credulity to snapping point.

The minor characters, other than Blackie the dog, failed to convince me at all – the two mothers were caricatures and irritating, Harvey was strangely colourless considering his career. The cops were all ciphers, none of them springing into life as the minor players in Bad Case of Loving You did so beautifully. The dialogue lacked any regional distinctiveness and if the author herself is going to make a point of the fact that one person is British, another American and the rest Australian, then I’d expect to know that by more than the cast telling each other about it. I felt the world wasn’t anything like as well-defined as that in One Way Street, though parts like Jason’s apartment and the surfing scenes felt vivid. On the whole, it felt all strangely flat and unengaging.

It’s better written, technically, than One Way Street, though again with blurgy formatting in the HTML version which seems to plague Torquere’s products (and can someone convince them to produce a style sheet that makes the stories a little more pleasant to read?) The sex scenes are very nice indeed, and with characters one can quickly care about. Jason’s ironic intelligence is amusing, and Ryan’s panicking about his apparently subverted sexuality also entertaining and absorbing. It’s not an unlikeable story by any means, and as I said, read at one level, works perfectly well. It’s just frustrating knowing that this author can write so much better, and I can’t help wanting more of that standard. Nonetheless Undercover Blues is a superior offering for this genre, and I will be buying more from this author. If you want a better than average romantic tale, then this could be perfect for you.