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Gay-romance writer Trent Copeland finds his life in a rut while his boyfriend, Special Agent Reed Acton, is away on an undercover mission. After attending a special course at FBI headquarters in Quantico, Trent’s eager for another challenge. He jumps at the opportunity for a trip to Japan to oversee appraisals of two art collections to be sold at the gallery he co-owns. But the trip isn’t all cherry blossoms and Hello Kitty. When one of the collectors he meets—rumored to be the head of a Yakuza gang—turns up dead, Trent is accused of the murder and thrown in jail.
Reed drops everything to help find out who really committed the crime. He’s in unknown territory in Japan, forced to navigate Tokyo’s sex underworld to unravel the truth and save Trent. He poses as a “host” at a seedy late-night club. When Reed’s undercover activities place him at a ruthless Yakuza leader’s sex party, he must be willing to go to any lengths to secure Trent’s safety and freedom. But trusting the wrong people brings both Reed and Trent to the Yakuza leader’s attention. If they’re ever to have a happy ever after, they’ll first have to call on every skill just to stay alive.
This was a fun installment, part 3 in Lynley’s “Precious Gems” adventure romance series, but there were a couple issues for me that made it not my favorite book in the series.
I really enjoyed the first two books, Rare than Rubies and Italian Ice, and rated them 4 stars and 4.5 stars respectively. In this installment, gay romance writer Trent is off to Japan with his friend Beth to help survey some art for a gallery he co-owns. But as usual, Trent is a magnet for trouble, and he finds himself on the wrong end of a murder investigation and is thrown in jail (and Japan does not have the same legal system as the U.S., so there is no “one phone call” and his case looks like it might move to a quick conviction.)
Fortunately for our hapless hero, FBI agent and live-in boyfriend Reed flies in to work with the U.S. Embassy and figure out how his man so conveniently fell into someone’s set-up of a yakuza murder.
What I liked: I really like Trent and Reed, and have really appreciated how they’ve grown over the series. Somewhat sheltered writer Trent has really developed. At the beginning of the series, he was a man still in mourning over his lover’s death and was taking a trip to Thailand to help “rejuvenate” both his writing and his life. (And that’s where he bumped into undercover agent Reed, and got quickly embroiled into Reed’s rare antiquities case.) Reed has also really grown. He still worries about Trent getting hurt, but also recognizes that the inexperienced writer he first fell for in Thailand has grown much stronger and more capable (although still maintains his sweet veneer and his love of luxurious body wash.)
Their interactions together, and not just sexy times, but just regular interactions, are my favorite parts of the series. And in this installment, we got to see them both work on their own to solve the case (and protect each other.)
I also really liked the setting in Japan. Lynley mentions in a note in the beginning that she had lived there for several years, and it’s very evident by the everyday details that paint a very realistic Japan, and not one that falls on stereotypes or common tropes. (As someone who studied Japan, I appreciated the careful attention Lynley paid to the setting to make it real and not a cartoon.)
What was harder: For me, the pacing felt very uneven in this installment. I also felt Rarer than Rubies had a slow start, but this felt even slower as the first 40% are filled with the set-up, some cozy times with Reed, and then Trent’s detailed trip to Kyoto and Tokyo. I think I put the book down around 38%, wondering when the story was going to pick up. It did after that, but it felt like it really took too long to get to the main plot.
The next part, where Trent is arrested, almost is a complete reversal, and moves too fast as the narrative shifts to a lot of “telling” as Trent is moved quickly through the system and tossed into jail, and starts to really worry if he’s going to be indicted and possibly face the death penalty for a murder he did not commit (but which no one believes.) I understand why this went by so fast—probably because the author wanted to get to the rest of the story, but it added to the uneven feeling of the pacing. (Although it made the reader empathize with Trent’s feelings of being overwhelmed by the breakneck process that he was tossed into.)
Things settle into a comfortable/fitting pacing in the second half as Reed gets to Japan, and they are reunited for a short time before splitting up again as Reed moves on to the case to find the real killer.
For me, I kind of wish the set-up part was tighter and the conflict was introduced a little earlier. I do understand why the cozy couple time was included in the beginning. It did feel like “filler” but I think it was partially included because the MCs are not together a lot in the bulk of the book. They’re following separate threads for most of the story, so are probably only together for about a quarter of the book.
I definitely did miss that “together-time”, and again, I’m not referring to sexy time. Reed and Trent’s interactions are my fave parts the series, and I like seeing how they work together on things. I understand part of the point of this installment was to show how they can work separately for each other, and be resilient on their own, but I definitely missed those closer interactions and how their different styles bounce off each other.
What added to that separation also was Reed’s partnership with Shindo, a Japanese Interpol agent who is helping Reed out on the case. Fairly quickly in their first meeting, Reed internally ruminates about how attractive Shindo is and how he wonders what Shindo’s beautiful lips would look around his cock.
This completely kicked me out of the story. Reed earlier qualified that Trent would be considered his husband, and has been very worried about Trent (who not only was arrested, but was later beaten up by mobsters), and is working the case to clear his name, so this inclusion of a very strong attraction felt out-of-place at this point of the story (around 60-70% in) and felt a little out-of-character for Reed, who always seems very focused (unless Trent is involved, and then Reed admits to himself that he can make mistakes.)
I understand why it was included—realistically people in committed relationships can be strongly attracted to someone else without it risking the relationship, but it felt very off-putting in the story, and around 71%, I thought about wandering off and not finishing, it felt that *off* to me.
I think Lynley closed off the story well, although I still had a couple questions. Things end well with our heroes though, a strong HFN, just like the last two books.
But for me, and I say this as someone who has been a big fan of the series, the pacing issues, the lower amount of MC “together-time” and the oddness of the added attraction to a side character made this overall an uneven reading experience for me.
I still very much recommend the series as a whole, especially for those who like adventure romance. The first two books are a lot of fun, and Trent and Reed are very appealing characters and have a great (albeit sometimes tumultuous) relationship. For those who like a little excitement, danger, and faraway locals mixed in with their romance, these books are definitely good reads.