Review - "Desert Run" by Marshall Thornton
Good, gritty nontraditional m/m story
Don is an entertainer in a third rate cocktail bar in Palm Springs circa 1973. He's out of the army, single, and doesn't mind picking up the occasional hot woman and having a good time.
When Shelly walks in to the lounge, she is a hot looking blonde, in town for a convention and hot to trot. That she looks oddly familiar raises his red flags, but not enough to keep him from hooking up. After a brief few days and a lot of fun and sex, Don's past shows back up to cause a LOT of trouble.
Seems Don is really Ricky D'Amico from Chicago, ex-army, and on the run from a terrible situation that has him changing his identity and laying low, unable to contact family or friends. Shelly's revelation of who she is and that she recognizes him stuns and worries him, and then, quickly has him in the run yet again. Then, what starts as Don pool sharking to get money to stay on the run from the troubles chasing him leads to his meeting and falling into a friendship with Harlan, a young man being kept by a middle aged movie start. A male star. And what follows is an action packed, thrill ride of mobsters, movie stars, murder and memories.
This is NOT your average m/m story, and that is a VERY good thing!
This is first and foremost a story about an average guy trapped in a situation anything but average, but out of his control. What happened in Chicago starts a chain of events that has Don constantly looking over his shoulder, reacting and on edge. Shelly's stumbling across him by accident brings all that he has tried to put behind him right back in his face, and drives the action throughout the book.
And this is a great ride of a book. The action fast paced, the fear palpable and Don propelled into reactions designed to keep him safe for one more day. Mr. Thornton has crafted a very believable character in Don - a Vietnam era veteran (this is 1973) who suffers from light PTSD and flashbacks. He is brutally adaptable, able to make quick decisions, but is a man with a conscience. He is used to doing what is necessary to survive, and all of the actions he takes in this well written, excellently paced roller coaster of a book are consistent and believable.
What sets this book apart from merely being a well written action story, however, is the addition of the m/m element to the mix. While on the run, Don is thrown into a situation where he meets Harlan, a young gay man. Don's initial intention is to use him for a place to stay, never intending for anything sexual to occur. Don discovers that he has an initial connection with the guy - or at least to getting off. As he gets to know Harlan, however, he has to question himself as to whether there is something more to his attraction than Harlan's being just an easy way to get off, or if there is an emotional connection.
And that is what makes this such a relevant and exciting book for me. Don is on the run, fighting for his life. And Mr. Thornton works in a nicely told interlude where Don contemplates his sexuality. It fits seamlessly into the tale, and adds texture and depth to the character. I never questioned where Mr. Thornton was taking me or how we were getting there - I just sat back and let this masterful storyteller take me along for a fun, exciting and ultimately satisfying ride.
I wish we had more of this in the genre to choose from - action driven stories where the m/m element was secondary but important. I love me some HEA and hot sex, but there is a place for this type of book in the genre also.