Breaking Cover by Kaje Harper

Rating: 9.5/10 ★★★★★★★★★½ 
Title: Breaking Cover (Life Lessons #2)
Author: Kaje Harper
Genre: Detective mystery
URL: ManLoveRomance Press
Price: $8.99
Other Information/warnings: Violence, child abuse (non-explicit), homophobia, explicit sexual content
Summary [from the publisher]:
For homicide detective Mac, it’s been a good year. Having Tony to go home to makes him a better cop and a better person. For Tony, it’s been hard being in love with a man he can’t touch in public. Evasions and outright lying to friends and family take a little of the shine off his relationship with Mac, but Tony is determined to make it work.

As the Minneapolis Police Department moves into a hot, humid summer, Mac is faced with a different challenge. A killer has murdered two blond women, and the police have no real clues. Mac hates to think that another murder may be the only way they’ll make progress with the case. But when that murder happens, it hits close to home for Tony. And suddenly Mac faces an ultimatum: come out into the sunlight and stand beside Tony as his lover, or walk away and live without a piece of his heart.

My review:
I could save myself a lot of time if I just said if you liked Life Lessons, you’ll adore Breaking Cover. Same cast of characters, lots of development, a tight and scary plot, and solid resolutions that leave a few things dangling in a realistic fashion. The second book (if you don’t count the lovely and very enjoyable And to All a Good Night, Harper’s free, self-published little sequel to Life Lessons) is as satisfying a sequel as you’re likely to find in this genre, and Ms Harper continues to grow as an author in a most admirable fashion. Only gripes I have are the over frequent sex scenes (which are a leetle too obviously inserted at someone’s insistence – an editor, possibly?), the fucking gawdawful cover, and the ridiculous price.

Oh, okay. Pretend you’re paying to read this review. I guess you want more than that.

The first book left our two guys in a strong, emotional bond but with many pressures threatening to pull them apart, most notably, Mac’s job, Mac’s daughter, and Mac being in the closet. The author confronts these head on in this book, but in a way which creates unexpected tensions, threats and opportunities. The lure of giving our two gay lovers a family unit of their own is too powerful for almost any author to resist, but the way Harper does it here is sensitive and clever, and far from easy, while weaving it into a mystery which throws Tony and other vulnerable people into great danger. It’s nailbiting stuff, and very well done.

I adored how Mac developed in this story. Tony is the same sensitive, brave, generous guy from the first story, but Mac positively blossoms emotionally. He takes huge risks, not for his own sake, but purely for Tony’s and that of a small child, and in doing that, reaps both great rewards and great risk. Even though the eventual outcome was surely predictable given the genre, I wasn’t sure for much of the story how the author would pull it off, and was afraid she would go for some wretched OK-Homo solution. She doesn’t, and for that, she deserves to be applauded. A few homophobic characters verge on the cartoonish – or at least you would think so, if you’re unfamiliar with just how appalling and unhinged homophobes in America can be. Sadly, Harper is portraying reality, not cariacture. I like how she didn’t lay things down all nice and neatly for our boys at the end, since it’s clear that Mac and Tony have only cleared the first set of hurdles in their life together raising a family. There’s a tiny amount of rose-tinting, but only a smidgeon. Most of the time, it’s almost unbearably realistic and gritty.

I should add some praise for minor characters like Mac’s partner Oliver, and the two children. They felt vivid and real, appealing without being sugary. It’s hard to write children without making childless readers puke. This author pulls it off well.

Harper’s writing is tighter than ever. Really, she deserves an award for most improved newcomer or something. It’s impressive to compare this one with her first (free) book. Well done.

I can’t add much more to this without spoiling the story. The publisher is the biggest barrier to readers enjoying this book – $8.99 is a ridiculous price even for a long ebook – and when they can’t be bothered getting decent cover artists, it’s an insult to author and reader alike. But if you can grit your teeth and buy this despite price and cover, then you won’t be disappointed by the content. Highly recommended. Next book soon, please!