Rating: 9.5/10 ★★★★★★★★★½ 
Title: Life Lessons
Author: Kaje Harper
Genre: Contemporary, mystery
URL: MLR Books
Price: US $7.99
Other Information/warnings: Violence, explicit sexual content
Summary [from the publisher]:

Tony Hart’s life has been quiet lately. He has good friends and a rewarding teaching job. Then the murdered body of another teacher falls into the elevator at his feet, and Tony’s life gets a little too exciting.

Jared MacLean is a homicide detective, a widowed father, and deeply in the closet. But from the moment he meets Tony’s blue eyes in that high school hallway, Mac can’t help wanting this man in his life. However Mac isn’t the only one with his eyes on Tony. As the murderer tries to cover his tracks, Mac has to work fast or lose Tony, permanently.

My review:

Ms Harper’s debut novel, the free to read Lies and Consquences, was a flawed but enjoyable introduction to this author’s writing. Life Lessons is a much stronger and tighter book, lacking almost all the flaws I’d noted in the earlier novel, and showing Ms Harper to have a good command of story telling and character development.

The two leads are attractive and interesting. Tony Hart, an out gay teacher involved against his will in a murder investigation which turns into a stalking campaign, is perhaps a little too decent for his own good – if he had a flaw, I didn’t discover it – but he nicely balances the closeted and tormented Jared MacLean who is trying to juggle the demands of his job, the sexual needs he barely dares to give in to, and the care of his young daughter, in foster care most of the time, but whom he takes out once a week in an attempt to maintain a parental bond. Minor characters like Tony’s friend, Marty, and the other teachers at the school, are sketched in lightly but convincingly. The lack of positive female rolesĀ  in this novel was the only aspect of the characters I didn’t care for, although the way the less sympathetic female characters were portrayed was quite realistic.

Ms Harper has considerably toned down the tendency for the plot to grow ever more dramatic and somewhat ridiculous which was the biggest flaw of her earlier book. This story was much more credible, while still gripping. The only tendency to ridiculousness was in the piling on of the angst over Mac’s wife’s history and his current relationship with his daughter’s foster carer, Brenda. Any single element of Mai’s history would have been enough, and believable, and taken on its own, Brenda’s hyperreligiousness (especially in Minnesota) was not incredible. But putting Mai’s history, Mac’s history with Mai, and Brenda’s fundamentalism all in the same story, basically as a way to justify Mac staying in teh closet was de trop. Not enough to put me off the story, but it’s a flaw I hope the author will work on.

Writing was strong, editing okay, and the story is well-paced. The sexual tension is nicely done, and the sex scenes also good, tender and propelling the character development along, as they should. I particularly liked the epilogue, which answered some questions, deliberately didn’t solve every problem.

All in all this is a thoroughly enjoyable and well made book, which I highly recommend. I look forward eagerly to Ms Harper’s next novel.

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