Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
Dare Buckley has returned home to Palladian, Washington a far different person than the one he was when he left. Dare left Palladian, a teenaged golden boy who, along with his mother, was mourning the loss of his father who had committed suicide. The man who returned? That Dare Buckley is a disgraced former Seattle P.D cop. A man who’s poor judgement and even worse actions have made him someone only a hometown police department would give a job too. Dare Buckley knows this is his last chance for redemption and he needs to make good. It also gives him a chance to investigate his father’s death and reconnect with someone who used to idolize him, Finn Fowler.
Finn Fowler, son of the local tramp, is someone who Dare protected when they were in school when the bullies saw Finn as an easy victim and outsider. But that young boy who followed Dare everywhere, who thought Dare was his hero is gone. Now there’s an adult Finn Fowler to content with, one who wants little to do with Dare Buckley. Or so it seems.
Palladian has always been a town of secrets, only Dare never realized that before now. And those secrets contain the answers that Dare needs to find closure and the ability to go forward. But what happens when someone doesn’t want those secrets to come out? Who can Dare trust when even the man he thought he knew might be keeping the biggest secret of them all?
Two things right off the bat. One, I love Z.A. Maxfield. Her stories have an originality and life about them that I find irresistible. So many of them are must reads and highly recommended books on my shelf. Two. Home the Hard Way is probably not one of those stories, at least for me.
Home the Hard Way is more of a mixed bag for me narratively speaking than her other tales of angst, broken men, and love. For most of this tale, I was engrossed in the complicated but resoundingly lifelike plot. That includes the small town Sheriffs office and its police officers, the town beauty parlor and its clients as well as all the other denizens of a town that’s seen better days and knows it. And there’s a local golden boy who left a hero and came home a failure. Those parts all work here and work extremely well. The resignation, humiliation, and indignation of the returned “past his glory” boy and the people left behind who idolized him…all rang true. It is just one well conceived and well drawn character portrait after another here.
Other plot threads that worked seamlessly throughout the story were the old mysteries floating up from the past to haunt and threaten those involved in their present lives. That these secrets were kept hidden by agreement and association feels like an integral part of authentic small town life instead of part of a fictionalized culture. I liked that too. Even the behavior that can be institutionalized under such a society felt real. Bullying, harassment, all can be excused given the right circumstances and people involved, and that’s the shared history in a small town that makes that an ordinary happenstance. Everything I just mentioned worked beautifully in the story and made the narrative flow slowly along.
So what didn’t work for me? The manner in which one main character is introduced to bdsm and a D/s relationship. And that aspect of the story was enough, in its treatment, to almost derail this book for me.
I love it when using BDSM components or a D/s scene or lifestyle makes sense for a character or a situation. I think that it’s important that it be explained or incorporated in a way that lets the reader into the scene and understand why its necessity for both characters to participate. It shouldn’t, in my opinion, make you start questioning about the “rightness” of the scene or the judgement about the author’s handling of her characters in such a scene. Or even if the segments that bothered me are acceptable to the leather or bdsm community in general (if you can answer this please let me know), I do know that those scenes were problematic enough to keep me awake trying to see it from all angles because it bothered me enough to jar the flow of the story.
My issues here? That anything consensual can happen with a drunken or judgment impaired character and not be addressed in the narrative. That’s at the core of my dissatisfaction with this story. It’s a sticking point with me although it might not be for other readers. But here’s my thinking on the issue.
For starters, that a drunk character, on an unplanned, inebriated visit to another sober character (under strained circumstances) gets pushed /involved into a D/s BDSM scene with little dialog or discussion between the characters. Unless the lack of consent is part of the storyline, an inebriated or alcoholic person (fictional or not) can’t be seen to give consent to an action or behavior, even an implied consent without some discussion going on. The impaired judgement of that main character is not addressed. It wouldn’t have mattered even if they are getting a tattoo while on a binge or other similar actions.
Secondly, then this character is ushered into an act of submission, and by a Dom/character who has complex feelings about the other person. This includes a long standing grudge (feelings of abandonment) against this character. For me, it just felt well less a scene between consenting adults and more like an action of aggression and implied revenge. Again that would be fine if that was the intent of the scene. But it’s not. And the character made to submit? A virgin so to speak about D/s play and BDSM in particular. This happens more than once. Is this typical D/s play? Don’t know. I have been informed by some in the lifestyle that such scenes need to be worked out in advance, rules and limitations agreed to, things of that nature.
Again, it’s not the D/s or BDSM play that I mind, but the manner in which the characters use it to sexually interact with each other and work out old issues. This guy is a mess to begin with and it only gets worse. I wish the whole aspect of this story would have been handled a little differently. Even the slightest change would have affected how I feel about this story. I kept trying to see my way around this element but I could never resolve it satisfactorily enough to get by it.
This element aside (which admittedly was hard for this reader), Home the Hard Way is a story that many readers will enjoy and feel deeply about. Why? Because there are so many wonderful elements at work here. Z.A. Maxfield’s characters and small town descriptions are just incredible. Just the way in which the town of Palladian and the rank river that it got its name from are depicted. The river, dank,and sluggish, full of trash pooling at its edges, waits for a storm to flush the stagnant waste and foul waters away. Much the way the town has an overlay of old secrets, hidden antagonisms, and barely contained jealousies and rivalries. It’s that aroma of neglect that reflects the stagnant feel that small town can get as if the life is seeping slowly out of them a drip at a time. Everyone knows everyone else or thinks they do because of a shared history that can reach decades into each family’s life. This element of the story made Home the Hard Way for me. I recognized those people and the town they lived in. I knew them from their all-too-human actions, petty and otherwise, The small town parlance and activities speak for themselves as an authentic part of small town USA.
Will the issues that bothered me here bother you? Not sure. That’s for you to decide. If not,then you might feel that this is just the story for you. As I said, so much about this book is quite wonderful. I enjoyed parts of Home the Hard Way, just not enough to read it again and that’s the benchmark for a 4 star rating for me. Let me know how you feel about the book and this issue. This inquiring mind wants to know.
Cover art by Amber Shah. I loved it and vote it one of the best of the month!
book, 350 pages
Expected publication: July 28th 2014 by Riptide Publishing
original titleHome the Hard Way