Author ~ Rhys Ford
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 4th September 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
It isn’t easy being a Morgan. Especially when dead bodies start piling up and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it.
Quinn Morgan never quite fit into the family mold. He dreamed of a life with books instead of badges and knowledge instead of law—and a life with Rafe Andrade, his older brothers’ bad boy friend and the man who broke his very young heart.
Rafe Andrade returned home to lick his wounds following his ejection from the band he helped form. A recovering drug addict, Rafe spends his time wallowing in guilt, until he finds himself faced with his original addiction, Quinn Morgan—the reason he fled the city in the first place.
When Rafe hears the Sinners are looking for a bassist, it’s a chance to redeem himself, but as a crazed murderer draws closer to Quinn, Rafe’s willing to sacrifice everything—including himself—to keep his quixotic Morgan safe and sound.
(This review may contain spoilers)
I have to start off by admitting my bias – I am a dyed-in-the-wool Rhys Ford fan. There’s no particular character that’s stolen my heart, no Gay Romance Meme that presses my buttons, and no theme that permeates all her work and speaks to me. I am a fan because this woman is an astonishingly good writer. The best evidence of that is not any particular book this prolific author published, or even a single fascinating series. What makes me a committed acolyte, one who looks forward to whatever the next Rhys Ford book may be, is that she is the author of at least four of my favorite series. These series are not related by character or theme, just by the amazing talent brought to bear on them. From the humorous and touching tales of the young hotel manager of a way-station for ghosts, to a host of different cops (including the entire Morgan clan and the formidable Cole McGinnis), a reformed young cat burglar and his filthy-rich grandfather, Elves and their stalkers, The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse, and, of course, rock musicians. Only three things tie these together: the brilliant writing with its unique, colorful, vivid characters and perfectly-tuned dialogue; beautiful gay men, some of whom start out gay, some of whom find love in the most unexpected places; and action - intense mayhem rained down upon the heroes by seriously evil villains. Ms. Ford does it all, and does it with unerring style, panache, compassion and an obvious deep affection for her multitude of gay characters, a veritable rainbow of types, attitudes, looks, ethnicities and attitudes, with a particular affection for big Irish cops. I can’t wait for each new release.
And that includes “Sloe Ride”, the latest installment in Ms. Ford’s “Sinners” series that features a rock band, Sinner’s Gin, that keeps returning in various incarnations. But the band is not the core that ties the books together. That’s the Morgan family, a huge extended clan consisting of multiple generations of cops (sisters included), and Quinn, the outlier, feared to be autistic, but, in fact, simply an off-the-charts genius who lives in his own world of intellect and random connections. He is not a cop. At one time, his total lack of social skills was considered a handicap and no one had much hope for his future. But he matured into a respected, multi-doctorate, college professor revered by his students, most of whom are just a year or two younger than him.
There was, however, one person who always knew exactly how brilliant Quinn was. Rafe Andrade was only an “adopted” Morgan, closest friend of Quinn’s older brothers, a world-class musician in his own right, and the only man Quinn ever loved, though it was from a distance, because Rafe is a number of years older than Quinn, and the precocious boy grew to love him when he was too young to be allowed to. The Morgan boys were all huge, and insanely protective of their younger brother. If Rafe ever even looked cross-eyed at the young Quinn, they’d flatten him on the spot, and he knew it. Plus, he absolutely refused to betray the trust of the family he considered his own, and put their love and acceptance at risk.
Unfortunately, Rafe found himself in love with Quinn Morgan, a love he ran away from. Like running off to join the circus, Rafe fled the Morgan family and his attraction for Quinn, left town, co-founded a rock band, became enormously successful and wealthy. Although he kept a penthouse in San Francisco, he rarely returned to his hometown and the Morgans. That is, not until his own life fell apart, due in large part to the mountains of cocaine and prescription drugs he was consuming, and the young trick, dead of an overdone, on the living room floor of his hotel suite.
Six months in court-ordered rehab, he emerges sober, without a band, alone, friendless, but with enough money in the bank to keep him going, for years – if he even had a reason to keep going.
As it turns out, he does. His beloved Quinn.
The two men see each other again, for the first time in ages, at the opening of Connor Morgan and his boyfriend’s refurbished and incredibly cool, retro coffee shop. What Rafe doesn’t know is that Quinn almost didn’t make it there. Not very adept at social interaction, he is, on the other hand, a skilled driver and his brand-new Audi is a killer ride, both of which kept him alive. Someone driving a van followed Quinn from the college and chased him through the streets of San Francisco trying to drive him off the road, head-on into a city bus, and off the side of a bridge into the inky water below. Quinn pulls out all the stops and evades the big commercial van out to end his life, through a heart-stopping series of defensive driving moves and hairpin turns. Although his Audi is near totaled, the van is lying on its side, wheels spinning, out of commission. And there’s no driver. Whoever he was, he melted into the fog, never to be seen again.
Rafe arrives at Marshall’s Amp, the coffee shop attached to the Sound, a local rehearsal and practice studio that had helped give birth to the legendary Sinner’s Gin band, and Rafe’s own. Ms. Ford provides an elegant description:
“Marshall’s Amp was right where Rafe’d left it, sharing a wall with the Sound recording studio on the corner of bad memories and regret.”
But not all the memories are bad. Certainly not the gorgeous young man with the shoulder-length hair who marches directly through the crowd to confront Rafe. He’d grown from a pretty boy into a beautiful young man, his body filled out, his walk more confident, his eyes still missing nothing:
“Quinn was definitely a Morgan, a leaner version of the standard-issue, carved-from-granite Morgan, but still as molten sensual as a shot of whiskey in hot drinking chocolate on a cold night.”
And the first words he spoke proved that this would not be an ordinary “how have you been?” moment. As I mentioned, Quinn was not very good at social interaction, but he was stunning at saying exactly what he was thinking:
“I needed to ask you a question.” Quinn blinked, his lashes sweeping shadows down over his cheeks. “I kind of need to lose my virginity. And I was wondering if you could help me out.”
Thus begins a journey, a journey into salvation, into redemption, even into resurrection for the musicians of Sinner’s Gin, but most important, the long-delayed journey into love for Quinn Morgan and Rafe Andrade.
Not that the journey is all that easy. There’s a lot of killing and terrorizing going on. Quinn’s Ex shows up murdered, as does one of his closest colleagues. One of Quinn’s female students is flayed alive, spread eagle across the windshield of his beloved Audi R8. There are attempts on Quinn’s life, even after Rafe moves him into his penthouse with its heavy security, which turns out to suffer a number of unforeseen and unfortunate flaws.
Then the worst happens. At the core of the entire “Sinners” series, is family. The Morgan Family, that great gang of big, tough men and tougher women, that band of cops and cops’ wives, boyfriends and husbands to whom the only things that ultimately count are justice and family. The patriarch of the clan, Donal, a Captain of the San Francisco Police Department, is built of stern stuff, and taught his sons how to be strong, honest, brave, and compassionate. When three of his sons turned out to be gay, he hugged them, welcomed their partners into the family and never treated them one iota differently than before he knew. But no one crossed Donal and lived to tell about it. Brigid, the tiny, red-haired matriarch of the family is a ball of fire who even intimidates the powerful Donal – he who still loves her to death. She is the mother not just to her own, but to their lovers, boyfriends, husbands and the host of strays the family has adopted along the way, including Rafe. She takes no prisoners. Just as demanding and tough as a five-foot Irish spitfire can be, she is equally compassionate, loving and nurturing.
And then she is shot. When Rafe, Quinn and Brigid are in the basement parking garage of Rafe’s penthouse, Rafe bends down to pick something up when he hears a bullet whiz by his ear – a bullet that was intended to make Rafe the next victim in the terror campaign being waged against Quinn, but Brigid, who was standing behind him, takes the bullet.
All hell breaks loose as Brigid is rushed to intensive care, the entire extended family distraught at the thought that they might lose her, and furious enough to rouse the entire city to find the monster who did this, and who continues to threaten Quinn.
It takes a while, but the lunatic who is terrorizing Quinn exposes himself and, in an exciting climax, tries to kill Rafe so that he can have Quinn all to himself. His mistake is that he does it up close and personal, and neither Rafe nor Quinn is having any part of this.
It’s not a spoiler to mention that the mystery is solved. In all of Ms. Ford’s books, they are, even when some characters don’t get their happily-ever-afters. But being involved with the Morgans is almost a charm, a guarantee that your life will be better after you meet them than it was before you did. And a few people left hanging with questionable outcomes offers a golden opportunity to follow them up in a future “Sinners” novel.
When all is said and done, there’s always redemption through music. Rafe doesn’t miss the money, the fame, the touring and the hype of the music industry, but he sure does miss the music - his heart was only ever driven by the music and by Quinn. The timing is propitious, because the surviving members of Sinner’s Gin are in the process of building the band again, and if Rafe can be forgiven, there just may be a place for him in the new band.
I’m reasonably certain that Rhys Ford cannot write a bad book, and “Sloe Ride” definitely keeps her streak intact. There are moments that will drive you to tears: tears of sorrow, tears of joy, and tears of beauty at the family and their embracing, acceptance and protection of all who come their way. All families should be like the Morgans. What drives the love story is the family’s utter conviction that each of them deserves to find a love as epic and enduring as Donal and Brigid’s.
Don’t miss this book. It’s priceless. Love, adventure, rediscovering lost souls, passion and justice make “Sloe Ride” an epic and profoundly moving adventure. This is a great writer, at her best, and a reading experience to cherish. If I could give it more than five stars, I would, without a moment’s hesitation. It’s that good.
Book #1: Sinner’s Gin
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Book #2: Whiskey and Wry
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Book #3: Tequila Mockingbird
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Book #4: Sloe Ride
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