Author ~ Rhys Ford
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 21st March 2016
Genre ~ Contemporary Mystery/Suspense M/M Romance
Former LAPD detective Cole McGinnis’s life nearly ended the day his police partner and best friend Ben Pirelli emptied his service weapon into Cole and his then-lover, Rick. Since Ben turned his gun on himself, Cole thought he’d never find out why Ben tried to destroy him.
Years later, Cole has stitched himself back together. Now a private investigator and in love with Jae-Min Kim, a Korean-American photographer he met on a previous case, Cole’s life is back on track—until he discovers Jeff Rollins, a disgraced cop and his first partner, has resurfaced and appears to be working on the wrong side of the law.
As much as Cole’s fought to put the past behind him, he’s soon tangled up in a web of lies, violence, and death. Jeff Rollins is not only trying to kill Cole’s loved ones, he is also scraping open old wounds and long-forgotten memories of the two men Cole loved and lost. Cole is sure Rollins knows why Ben ruined all their lives, but he isn’t looking for answers. Now Cole is caught in a cat-and-mouse game with a cold-blooded killer with the key to not only his past but his future.
I read “Dirty Heart” with mixed feelings. Not about the quality of the book or its writing, both of which are superb, but about the ending.
This book is an ending I hoped might never happen, the last in the Cole McGinnis series, a series that has given me so many hours of wonderful reading, evoked so many tears and moved my heart with so many triumphs. And now it is over. But you have to hand it to Ms. Ford. She has written a whiz-bang ending more than worthy of this remarkable series.
I have lived with these characters since 2011. They are etched indelibly in my soul. They were also my introduction to this prolific and versatile writer, who became, and remains, the touchstone by which I judge so many other authors. This is just one of at least three series of hers that I’ve read, religiously, over the last few years, but as the first, it occupies a special place in my heart.
What has made the Cole McGinnis series so fascinating to me is its perfect balance of murder, mayhem, love and family acted out by an incredibly rich cast of characters. At the top of the list is Cole himself, a former policeman who survived a murder attempt by a fellow cop that took his lover’s life. He went private when he recovered, courtesy of a big settlement from the city to compensate for the fact that they knew Ben was mentally unstable and did nothing to help him or protect Cole.
Next is Jae, the beautiful, talented, smart Korean boy with whom Cole falls in love. Cole is asked to investigate a situation for a Korean family – despite the fact that Korean families are generally very reluctant to bring outsiders in. Jae answers the door, and Cole is gone, over the top, lost in Jae’s eyes. Cole loved him even then. As each year passed, they grew to love each other even more deeply – which neither thought possible, but was.
Cole has two brothers. Mike, his older brother, is hugely successful running the executive protection firm he founded, and the only one Cole has ever felt comfortable leaning on in times of trouble. He just recently met his younger brother when Ichi came to America to find his brothers. The McGinnis boys are all half-Japanese but Cole was disowned by his traditional family when he came out as gay, so Ichi comes as a total surprise. The beautiful, independent tattoo artist is a great addition to his life, and Jae and Ichi form an instant bond. So do Bobby and Ichi. Bobby is Cole’s best friend and sparring partner. He was also a cop who worked with Cole on some cases, but didn’t come out until he left the force. Bobby and Ichi fall in love. Cole has difficulty coming to grips with this relationship, knowing his older friend had been more than a little bit of a player in his prime. It also strikes Cole as vaguely incestuous, since he considers Bobby to be as close as a brother. Ichi, on the other hand, has none of Cole’s qualms and loves Bobby without reservation. In “Dirty Heart”, Cole finally gives his whole-hearted blessing to the committed couple. Bobby has proved himself a worthy partner for Ichi. Why should he try to deny them the same joy and fulfillment he found with Jae?
Then there are the women. Most important is Claudia, the office manager who is also the take-no-prisoners African-American mother of eight who adopts the grateful Cole as the ninth. Next is Scarlet, the gorgeous Filipino transsexual (who lives as a woman, but demands to be recognized as a man), a surrogate mother to Jae when he was denied by his own family, a woman with surprising power and contacts in the community who has come to cherish Cole as she does Jae. One of the most impressive ladies in the cast is Mike’s wife, Maddy. As sexy as she is amazing, capable of breathtaking acts of athleticism and self-defense (not to mention threats that keep Mike well in line), she actually walks on a pair of spring blades that replace the lower legs she doesn’t have. “Handicapped” and “limitations” are not words in Maddy’s vocabulary – which is one of the reasons Cole affectionately calls her “Mad Dog McGinnis”.
I know I’m going on and on about the characters, but rare is the author who can produce such a rich assortment of beautiful, loving, deeply-painted characters from across the spectrum and the rainbow. I just love Ms. Ford’s courage and insight in taking on so many Asian characters, and the differences in culture and tradition among the Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and Filipino characters that play such a central role in both the families she portrays and the dramas that engage them.
Still, I don’t want to short-change the plot – there is plenty of torture, death and mayhem abroad in “Dirty Heart”, including attacks on Cole’s loved ones. The undercurrent in all the books is the signal event in which Ben kills Cole’s lover, Rick, and almost kills Cole – in some ways, he does, in fact, kill him, though not physically. He only maims him physically. You know from early in the series that Ben was mentally ill and unstable, but it’s not until “Dirty Heart” that we find out why – why all these terrible years of suffering had to happen, the hate that drove such pain and destruction. To those who have kept up with the Cole McGinnis series, the explanation will floor you. It will stun you.
The author ties all the loose strings up in this final installment, makes the murky clear and, in the process, moves the reader in so many ways. The lead characters are so empathetic, so vivid, you’ll laugh with them, feel their pain, and shed a tear at the beauty of their love. There’s a few lovely sections of hot lovemaking that transcend sex and form an integral part of the story (and the series). They expose the intimacy that expresses the love that lays beneath everything else that happens. It’s all beautifully written by a master. Let me leave you with an example, an exquisite description of the love between Cole and Jae. It’s a few of the most eloquent and evocative lines I’ve ever read about love:
“The city lay on his tongue, a dark velvet filled with sweet and bitter-sharp tangs. I could taste my heart as well, pulsing where he kept it safe inside of his soul…
…He touched me everywhere, both inside and out, pushing into the dark places I’d buried when I hurt and holding me together where I was broken…
…Jae’s smile – for me – tore the sun out of the sky and replaced it with his brilliant soul… My heart sang around him, and even the glide of his hand on my skin made me feel… whole.”
Good-bye Cole, Good-bye Jae. We’re certainly going to miss you all.
Meet Rhys Ford
Rhys Ford was born and raised in Hawai’i then wandered off to see the world. After chewing through a pile of books, a lot of odd food, and a stray boyfriend or two, Rhys eventually landed in San Diego, which is a very nice place but seriously needs more rain.
Rhys admits to sharing the house with three cats of varying degrees of black fur, and a ginger cairn terrorist. Rhys is also enslaved to the upkeep a 1979 Pontiac Firebird, a Toshiba laptop, and a red Hamilton Beach coffee maker.
If you’ve actually read this, yay! I need coffee. We should have coffee.
For more books by Rhys Ford check out her