by Aleksandr Voinov and Barbara Sheridan, contemporary (2010)
Dreamspinner Press, $3.99, ISBN 978-1-61581-441-1
Aleksandr Voinov and Barbara Sheridan are two authors who are not exactly well-known for politically correct and sanitized gay romances. Since I'm in the mood for some bad boys that are not necessarily noble or heroic, the premise of Clean Slate seems to suggest that this novella is exactly what I am looking for.
Chris Gibson and John Soong are assassins of GORGON. Chris is the player, John is the more serious one, and, rather predictably, they have both been thinking of being more than friends, only they haven't brought that subject up... yet. At any rate, it is perhaps wise to forgo discussions of romantic buggery until they have finished their latest assignment: they are in Monaco to kill the "motherfucker" Andrei Alexeyvich, a well-connected figure in the Russian mob scene. Unfortunately, they can only watch as someone gets to Andrei first.
They find Andrei alive - barely. Chris and John decide to save that man, for reasons that are never made clear to me. Maybe it's that nice-sized penis that Andrei is sporting. We can't waste good men, after all, or else Bonnie Tyler will be forced to come out and sing that Holding Out For A Hero song while we all wave lighters or something. GORGON eventually decides that Andrei is more useful to them alive than dead, and since Andrei wakes up with no memory, Chris and John decide to pose as his "very close friends" until he recovers his memory.
As you can tell from the premise, I'm sure, this is not a sophisticated spy thriller but rather a campy and over-the-top "boys with guns" thing. There is a campy B-grade movie feel to the whole thing: the premise is tad ridiculous and there are some scenes here that require huge suspension of disbelief, but the end result is most entertaining all the same. Oh, and yes, there is a ménage à trois here.
What I like about this story is that the three main characters all have distinctive well-rounded personalities. They aren't just Blond Guy #1, Brunette Guy #2, or Bottom Boy #3. In fact, it is the unexpected depth of characterization for a novella that has me wishing that this story ends with Chris taking a hike to a sequel because John and Andrei, to me, seem to share a deeper emotional connection to the point that Chris feels like an interloper in the bedroom.
All in all, Clean Slate is more of a literary equivalent of a standard B-grade action movie, the kind that is released by the TLA Entertainment Group straight to video. As a cute parcel of camp, romantic sodomy, danger, and unexpected surprises, Clean Slate tickles the fancy of the B-grade action flick fan in me.
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