Author ~ Eden Winters
Publisher ~ Rocky Ridge Books
Published ~ 8th August 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Living is the easy part.
Agent Lucky Lucklighter and his partner escaped Mexico alive, only to plunge into bureaucratic fallout from their mission. Hell, maybe Lucky should have stayed south of the border. Especially when the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau places Bo into rehab, and Lucky’s facing both therapy and an inquiry into a fatal shooting. Watching over his shoulder for a vengeful drug lord or a cartel don calling in favors leaves him scarcely able to imagine a future for them as agents, or as a couple.
Bo Schollenberger once had a vision for their life together, but he’s bowed beneath the weight of his undercover work. Lucky’s hanging on by his deeply chewed fingernails, clinging to hope by making Bo’s dreams of a home into reality. The last thing he needs is a phone call from a dangerous man who knows too much, summoning him back to Mexico for “an early Christmas present.”
Not when the SNB brass asks tough questions, like “How well do you know your partner?”
What a wonderful, inventive writer Eden Winters is. She creates not only vivid and touching characters, but funny characters, endearing characters, characters who easily survive a long series (maybe forever?) as they grow and become even more authentic in the improbable worlds in which Ms. Winters places them. I say “improbable” because, although her plots, settings and characters are all bigger than life, and unlikely in a real world too cynical to embrace their complexities, failures, triumphs and goodness, Ms. Winters demands that we suspend disbelief and root for the good guys against overwhelming odds – because sometimes, they really do win one. And that’s what Redemption is all about: winning one and the costs involved – the personal, moral and pragmatic challenges of doing the right thing and, somehow, making it work.
I fear this may be the last installment of the Lucky and Bo saga, as it seems to wrap up all the threads that have run through all five books, in a clean, elegant, unexpected and touching ending. But maybe Ms. Winters readers will be the ones who get lucky this time, and she grants us at least one more glimpse into the wonderful, page-turning lives of Lucky and Bo.
For those who don’t already know, Lucky (born Richmond Lucklighter) was a young, small-time car thief who made the fateful mistake of stealing the wrong car – one of the cars owned by one of the Southwest’s top drug traffickers, Victor Mangiardi. Instead of killing him, Victor takes him under his wing, gives him serious responsibilities transporting his drugs, wines him, dines him, exposes him to great art, jewelry and culture, and takes him to his bed. That is, until the operation is busted and they are all arrested. Lucky is forced to testify against Victor in return for a lighter sentence. Victor kills himself in prison – or does he? That’s the great mystery that wends its way through every book in the Diversion series, the great mystery that, ultimately, drives every plot.
After serving only two years, Lucky is offered an opportunity for release – but not freedom. He has to agree to work with a major East Coast drug agency and share his insider knowledge with trainees and legitimate companies, to identify their vulnerabilities to drug theft and diversion. He takes the plunge. He’ll be serving out his sentence, but at the beck and call of the SNB and its wily old director, Walter Smith. He gets very good at it. He’s not just an analyst. It turns out he’s a brilliant undercover operative who is more than convincing as a criminal, but surprisingly, incorruptible.
His only distraction from his full-time life of drug agent serving out the remaining eight years of his sentence is the partner fortuitously assigned to him - Bo Schollenberger, who is the polar opposite of Lucky. Tall and blond where Lucky is seriously short (though compact and gorgeous); refined and educated where Lucky is street-wise; patient and erudite, where Lucky has guts and no patience, whatsoever; the two end up as lovers. Initially they just fool around, which does not sit well with Bo, who is serious about everything, but is fine with Lucky who refuses to take anything seriously, ever again.
Where they are well-matched is that they’re both accomplished agents. Bo is new to the agency, but he’s a former Marine. Lucky is a graduate of the school of hard knocks, with a degree in self-defense earned as a small, pretty man trying to survive state prison.
Over the course of this series, the love between these two grows and changes. They work together. Lucky is officially killed off (to protect him) and becomes “Simon”. They fight with each other, they have each other’s backs, and then they get kidnapped (Lucky) or lured (Bo) to Mexico where they are both threatened with death if they refuse to cooperate with a lunatic, out-of-control, young drug kingpin, who happens to be a relation of Victor, the man who was Lucky’s mentor. This is a glimpse of hell, and Ms. Winters weaves a lurid tapestry of drugs, desperation, murder, mayhem and survival that rivals some of the best thriller writers working today.
And all that happens before Redemption, the latest installment in this challenging and wonderful Diversion series.
This is the book that deals with the issues behind all the battles that Lucky and Bo have faced, and the inevitable toll such terrifying and courageous acts exact from those who live them. This is one of the many reasons I love this book and love all of Ms. Winter’s books. She makes a strong case about the costs of violence, even on those who were defending themselves or other innocents. Lucky is barely living through nightmares about the man he had to kill to save Bo and escape from Stephan, the drug monster who killed his own father to get at his empire. There is violence in this series - after all, it’s a series about interdicting drugs and bringing drug criminals to justice. Violence is just built in to the situation, and is unavoidable. But Ms. Winters doesn’t exploit it, deal with it in a vacuum, sanitize it - she forces the reader to experience and appreciate the fallout from violence everywhere it hits. Bo suffers PTSD and Lucky wonders if he’ll ever get back the man he loves, as opposed to this moody, violent, withdrawn man who runs hot and cold, with many unpredictable triggers. Both men are in therapy, both men are trying to get back to who they were and what they had. It’s a difficult journey.
Which brings us to the love story. Over time, Lucky changed Bo, taught him to be more spontaneous, less dogmatic. Bo changed Lucky, who avoided relationships, for a variety of reasons, into someone who now dreams of a home, a dog, a family, a stable life with a husband to come home to every night. Through much of this series, these two are working toward the middle, Bo learning to trust Lucky, and depend on him, Lucky coming to believe that their relationship is something serious, not casual, and that he really does care deeply about his remarkable partner. For the first time in his life, Lucky has someone he loves, needs to heal, wants to protect, someone he truly cherishes. Lucky needs to be there for Bo, no matter what he’s going through - and forever.
They do get there. In a beautiful section of Redemption, the two men spend their first Christmas in three years together – not as they planned, but in the new house that is Lucky’s gift to Bo, with their friends, who are the beginnings of a new family for both men, celebrating the holidays and the fact that they are together, and plan to remain that way, always.
It was a hard road getting there, both personally and professionally, which makes their love and devotion that much sweeter. Lucky, who always hid his sexuality from the world, and would never acknowledge Bo in public, is now out and openly affectionate in the office, restaurants, on the streets, in the gym. Bo reciprocates, the two needing to touch as much as they need to breathe.
And then there is that final moment, when a gift left in their yard, accompanied by a photograph and a short note, explains everything to Lucky and Bo. Who is alive, who is not. An infamous drug dealer who went to great efforts to protect them turns out not to be whom they thought he was, and now they know there’s a pair of aging guardian angels with a deep stake in their happiness watching over them, their safety and their love. The moment is exquisite. It is perfect. It is vintage Eden Winters, and that’s saying a lot, because she is a stunningly fine writer, an assured, accomplished wizard with words, but even more, with characters who came alive on the first page of the first book in the Diversion series, and never faltered or dimmed through all the intervening books.
It this is the end of this wonderful pair, it is fitting, moving, and exactly right. But I will miss these men I’ve come to love and root for, over the years. If it’s not, then I can’t wait to see what Ms. Winters has next in store for them!
There is absolutely no question that this beautifully-written evocative book is a five-star read and a page-turner. I read it in one sitting and miss it already.
Therefore, I recommend it from the very depths of my heart and soul. Ms. Winters’ writing is one of the top reasons that I read gay fiction, or, in fact, any books at all.