Author ~ Shira Anthony and Aisling Mancy
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 6th November 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary Crime Thriller/Mystery Romance
Sparks fly when Chance meets tall, sexy Xav at a Wilmington bar and they have the hottest one-nighter of their lives. But Chance doesn’t do repeats, Xav seems detached, and they go their separate ways without a word. Later, when closeted Assistant District Attorney C. Evan “Chance” Fairchild meets Dare's Landing's newest deputy sheriff, Xavier “Xav” Constantine, Evan isn’t only wary. He’s irritated as hell.
Xavier is a former FBI agent turned deputy sheriff who is hot on the trail of a South American child prostitution ring. Evan is fighting to put an end to rampant cocaine trafficking and chafing under the thumb of an election-hungry boss. When someone tries to kill the eleven-year-old witness who holds the key to both their investigations, they’re forced to work together as they put their lives on the line to protect him. As Chance and Xav collide in the heat of a sweltering North Carolina summer, dodging bullets and chasing bad guys isn’t the only action going on.
The talented team of Shira Anthony and Aisling Mancy has produced an excellent novel, in fact, a near-perfect one. It’s not just a first-rate book, it’s an important book. It has much to recommend it.
First, it’s not your typical gay romance novel. Almost completely devoid of the standard memes of the genre, “A Solitary Man” is an action/adventure/mystery that happens to star two gay men. The men are Xavier Constantine, an FBI agent who has spent too many years fighting human trafficking and trying to save children from monsters, sometimes successfully, sometimes not; and Evan “Chance” Fairchild, an ADA in a sleepy town in North Carolina who desperately wants to do good, but accepts that he’s going to have to do what’s politically expedient in order to do it.
The one and only standard meme in the book is the two men “meeting cute”. Everything that comes after is unique, often stunning, moving, frightening and passionate.
On his last case, Xavier lost two kids when the DEA screwed up the operation, sending just one chopper, instead of the two required, because of budget reductions. Those budget reductions resulted in the deaths of two pre-adolescent boys, who died in his arms as he fought to save them. He handed in his badge and took off for Dare’s Landing, North Carolina, because he could not get those kids, and his failure to save them, out of his mind. He took the failure, and the deaths of the boys, personally - so much so that he had their eyes tattooed over his heart, so he will never forget them. He’s determined to get justice for two boys taken way too early, and to save the lives of others like them. One of the boys had a bus ticket from LA to North Carolina, the only clue to who he was, the only lead to whoever put him in harm’s way. He signs on as a Deputy Sheriff in Dare’s Landing. It’s a perfect platform from which to investigate how these kids were kidnapped off the streets of a middle-class, coastal fishing town, with no one reporting them missing.
Chance (only to his closest friends, to everyone else, he’s Evan) is determined to find out what’s happening in his town. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and Columbia Law, the son of a single, drug-addicted mother, he returned to coastal North Carolina because he thought he could make a difference. He’s finding that a lot tougher than he expected. He knows something terrible is going on in his county, and he knows it’s related to drugs, but he can’t get his boss, the D.A., to buy into it – he’s up for re-election and determined to deliver only good news to reflect his accomplishments, even if they’re just ephemeral.
The two men meet, as strangers, at the gay bar closest to Dare’s Landing, hit it off, and move on to Xavier’s rented digs to act on their attraction. Chance is, obviously, not that good a judge of horseflesh, mistaking Xavier’s muscular build, sun-bleached hair and killer Harley as the hallmarks of a vapid California surfer. If he only knew. He does manage to piss Xavier off when he sneaks out without leaving a note or a word of farewell, as though he’d never been there and never slept with him - just a stranger evaporating into the night.
It takes a day or two, but eventually, Chance finds out how wrong his initial impression was. Xavier is the new Deputy in town. And due to his vast Federal and international experience in combatting drugs and human trafficking, he’s expected to become a prime mover in local law enforcement, which means the two will be spending a lot of time together, like it or not.
There is something major amiss in their little town and county. Almost twenty kids have disappeared in just a few months. Unaccounted for, with not a single lead related to their disappearance, the Sheriff’s department is at wit’s end. They have to deal with the distraught parents and even the Sheriff is stunned by the complete lack of official reaction and support from the State Police and the Feds. No one seems to care about these missing kids, especially the rest of the Criminal Justice system. Xavier cares.
So does Chance, but for a different reason. Arrests on the I95 corridor have dropped to nearly nil, yet they’re seeing heroin showing up at the Middle Schools, and kids overdosing in the High School. Where are these drugs coming from? How are they getting in, and who is supplying them?
Xavier makes the connection for him – drug running and human trafficking usually go hand-in-hand. Find who’s kidnapping the boys for sexual slavery, and you’ll find your drug pipeline. They start looking, together, joining forces, though Chance has to do it on the sly, because the D. A. has forbidden him to look into the drug trade, ostensibly for political reasons – or perhaps his reasons are more personal than political?
The book moves along at a heart-pounding pace. More kids are missing. Kids are not being followed up on because someone has been purging them from the Federal database, so someone from law-enforcement is definitely involved, covering up for the cartel that’s spreading its stain over this small corner of North Carolina. These are violent people, and this book has violent acts. The authors quickly engage you through the thoughts and actions of Xavier and Chance, the honest and determined Sheriff, the handful of relatively inexperienced officers who become Xavier’s quickly-cobbled-together task force. There’s a host of vivid, admirable characters who will move you with their dedication and determination to protect the children, with their integrity and passion, especially in contrast to the political and criminal monsters who don’t give a damn about the kids.
That’s why this book is important. It’s an elegant and heartwarming love story, an exciting thriller, but most important, it’s an expose of the national tragedy and disgrace of the trafficking of children. It’s astonishing how badly we allow kids in America (and much of the rest of the world) to be treated. “Good Christian” families turn their under-aged kids out on the streets, at their pastors’ urging, abandoning kids as young as 11 or 12 to the predators because they might be gay. Our Foster Care and homeless facilities for kids are abysmal. New York City has approximately 5000 homeless gay kids, and just three hundred beds to serve them. Why is that?
Kids, boys and girls, gay and straight, get bartered, sold and passed around, with relative impunity, for the sexual pleasure of adults with money. That’s a crime against humanity. What I find most moving in “A Solitary Man” is the authors’ and the characters’ indignation that this is allowed to continue, that the resources and attention needed to stop the exploitation of children never seem to be a top priority in a nation that can well afford to do something to save them.
“A Solitary Man” is beautifully written. This evocative novel will rip out your soul, but warm your heart with the certainty that things can get better. The authors don’t preach, they show. You get caught up in the action, the mystery, the stories of the characters, and propelled along a journey into the darkest hearts of men and into the souls of the kindest, most caring, most courageous of people. This book is a clarion call – we all need to put homeless and trafficked kids at the top of our list. We need to get to them and help them before they’re corrupted, destroyed or killed – all for some predator’s profits.
I noted, earlier, that this book is “near perfect”, and it’s a shame that I can’t praise it without qualification, because I love this book, its prose, its message and its big heart. I love how Xavier and Chance discover, in each other, kindred spirits. However, I disagree with the authors’ depiction of the local arch-villain as a “She-Male”. I know the authors see a semantic difference between a “She-Male” and a “trans” person, but in my opinion, it’s a distinction without a difference.
In the book, Xavier describes “Victor” thus:
“His high-quality breast job and ample package were obvious beneath the skimpy summer dress, clearly intended to advertise the services he offered.”
The authors have him explain further:
“She-males work in the sex or pornography industries.”
I found these comments jarring. I don’t believe the authors were being intentionally discriminatory, nor do I think they were being appropriately sensitive. They seem to be relying on an outdated term that, these days, is only used on porn sites. No one writing books about and for the LGBT community should use the term “She-Male”, knowing that trans people will find it offensive and hurtful. Plus, I got the distinct feeling that they made “Victor” a “She-Male” to depict her as thoroughly reprehensible. Even if their distinction is genuine, they are displaying their revulsion at sex workers, treating people who are prostitutes or work in the porn industry as less than fully human.
What bothered me most is that “A Solitary Man” is such a brilliantly written book, such a powerful book, such a big-hearted and important book that it doesn’t need stereotyping to define its villains. If I were a trans person, prostitute, porn star or neither, I would be offended by this unnecessary characterization. Especially in a book about victims and those who save them – considering that trans people, no matter what their profession, are amongst the world’s most victimized and exploited people.
Enough about that. My discomfort should not deter you from buying, reading, and being profoundly affected by this remarkable book. It’s a great adventure story, an exciting police procedural with great characters you can root for, and lessons you can take away from it. Perhaps it will inspire you to join in the fight to end the suffering and exploitation of our children. And if it does, the authors have done their job – and then some.