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Fergus Campbell was not very happy about going to prison. He was even less impressed with how he got there- stitched up by one of his partners in crime, Judas MacGregor. He's had a few years to plot his revenge, which he sets in motion the very moment of his release. Only there is an unexpected spanner in the works as MacGregor , hoping to not catch Fergus' bad side if he can manoeuvre around it, takes him to the newest, most popular male brothel in the city. There he meets the breathtakingly beautiful owner, Mikhail. Falling head over heels, he is determined to have the stunning Mikhail for his own, and Mikhail seems in line with idea. However, Fergus has had the clingy, slightly psychotic, alcoholic Hugo waiting lovelorn and faithful at their shared home. Hugo has had dreams of happily ever after in full Technicolor fantasy playing through his mind during Fergus' sentence, and he is damned if he's going to let anyone get in the way of what he deems as his. Fergus is HIS husband, and he will do ANYTHING it takes to make sure Fergus stays where he belongs- by Hugo's side. As a former part of Judas' and Fergus' criminal syndicate, he has ways and means of making sure things get handled, but he doesn't know about Fergus' plot to crush Judas, nor Judas' plans to stay out of harm's way, especially in the form of Fergus, all the while hoping to live another day and get to pull another handsome lad for a really good shag. In the midst of it are the rest of the criminal syndicate and the spectre of the robbery that went wrong and saw the start of the whole sorry mess. So who's going to come out on top?
It's very much Carry On meets Ealing Street gangster comedy with a yaoi makeover, and I must say, the writing sparkled with wry wit. The plot was well executed, with all the characters springing to life within moments of meeting them, and intricate plot threads that interwove without confusion. The personality quirks could have been cliché, but thanks to the verve they were written with and the snappy wit of the dialogue, they came off as highly original characters that were somehow timeless. The settings were familiar enough as well to anyone who has been a fan of the old British gangster films, or anyone with little more than a passing knowledge of Glasgow.
From the epithet carved outside Judas' very unposh flat to his expensive bad taste in clothes that could have been lifted off of a 1970's American New York City pimp, complete with his fur adorned jacket worn despite sweltering heat, to the grotty little hideout and it's meanly lit parking lot, it's all viscerally familiar. Likewise the modest gentrified walk-up Hugo voraciously defends as home is as everyday as it gets in Britain. When mixed in with the simplistic plans that these guys think of as criminal genius and their lust for misplaced self righteous revenge, the stage is set for laugh after laugh as the men are foiled by their own capriciousness.
Fergus in particular was a delight. He's nowhere near the mastermind he thinks of himself as, and in fact, his anger is misplaced. He did the crime, but feels he was not to do the time, and all because he wasn't the one who was supposed to get caught. And therein lies the rub- Fergus' troubles actually all began because of a previously failed machination that a bank heist was used to engineer. The rest of the gang, including Judas, don't know it, but we do thanks to Fergus' inner dialogue railing about it, and his fear of facing his father over it, as his father was the one who put it forward all that time ago. Amusingly, it was this past Fergus who was rash enough to declare undying love for Hugo, and who let his anger and humiliation at being caught drive a wedge between them. Refusing to let Hugo visit him while inside, he has left Hugo home alone with his small rat-like dog to grieve, and moon, and pine, and drink while he himself allowed nothing for himself but anger, hate, humiliation, and a lust for revenge to dwell within.
Having allowed these to move into Hugo's place, when he gets out, he has a surprise vacancy in his heart that gets knocked for a loop when he encounters Mikhail. Mikhail is a study of contradictions. Ethereally beautiful in an androgynous way, he also has a very generous heart. Despite running a bordello filled with male prostitutes, he has his own code of honour and works hard to not take advantage of those who seek employment with him. He makes a stark contrast to Fergus and seems to fit him like a second half...he is light where Fergus is dark. He is also a polar opposite to Hugo, who hates him on sight, and discovering Fergus' attraction to Mikhail just throws petrol onto that fire.
Judas meanwhile, is the blithe, almost carefree sort. He is ostensibly the focus of the story, and indeed, if not for him, none of the whole prison debacle would have happened, nor would Fergus have made Mikhail's acquaintance. He's crude, he's mouthy, he's stunning of face and figure, and he has a stunningly appalling taste in clothes that yet somehow manages to work on him in some kind of flamboyant way that no one else could possibly get away with. He's also the Roadrunner of the piece to Fergus' Wile E. Coyote, only this time, Fergus is certain he's actually going to get his man. But at what cost? He now has Mikhail and Hugo to consider, and as he finds out, jealous spouses are not to be ignored. It all goes due south with serious consequences that are as sobering as they
are ironically funny, and the ending left me wiping my eyes clear while reaching for the Kindle button to open the second volume.
Primarily a prose novel, it also boasts several truly stunning illustrations within. The setting and characters may be gritty, but the artwork depicts the men so that we see them to be almost as lovely to behold as fallen angels. This could very well have worked against the piece by presenting an incongruity, but instead, it works to show the reader just how unsuited these fellows truly are to their lifestyle. They are grown, lovely fresh faced choir boys with major Daddy issues gone bad, thinking they are gangster hard just from growing a few whiskers and committing a few felonies, and feel they have something to prove desperately to all around them, including to themselves. It not only shows in their looks, but also in their very thought processes and motivations. The downside to the illustrations can be laid at the feet of the Kindle, which by necessity of the device's limitations can only show one page at a time, so that some images were split into two screens. Of course, if you have the paper edition, you not only get the cover and such in full colour, but can also view the occasional double page spread illustration all at once as intended.
I'd also like to thank Ai Press for providing me with my e-edition for review.