Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Loving Kim Jae-Min isn’t always easy: Jae is gun-shy about being openly homosexual. Ex-cop turned private investigator Cole McGinnis doesn’t know any other way to be. Still, he understands where Jae is coming from. Traditional Korean men aren’t gay—at least not usually where people can see them.
But Cole can’t spend too much time unraveling his boyfriend’s issues. He has a job to do. When a singer named Scarlet asks him to help find Park Dae-Hoon, a gay Korean man who disappeared nearly two decades ago, Cole finds himself submerged in the tangled world of rich Korean families, where obligation and politics mean sacrificing happiness to preserve corporate empires. Soon the bodies start piling up without rhyme or reason. With every step Cole takes toward locating Park Dae-Hoon, another person meets their demise—and someone Cole loves could be next on the murderer’s list.
Rhys Ford’s Dirty Secret takes all the relationships (family, romantic, partners) that we learned about in the first story Dirty Kiss, complicates them even further. Some by deteriorating what little stability they had attained, some by dredging up old relationships gone cold and making those feelings and grudges and passions alive once more. Within these stories and characters, history is not a dusty educational subject or leather bound tome but the present in the cultural rigidity by which whole families of Koreans live their lives. Its preserved in the business, marriage, every day affairs of Korean life no matter where that life may be lived. Even to those living their lives on the edge of prescribed of Korean societal limits like Kim Jae-Min and Scarlet know exactly where they fit into the strata of lives of the Korean families around them. And the pain that the knowledge brings to them.
Once more Rhys Ford’s ability to get beneath the surface of the bland face that most Koreans show towards non Koreans around them, Americans and otherwise and project just how all consuming that culture is and how its rigidity is strangling those that can’t conform, mostly because of their sexuality. Most authors would have just one character carry the pain and angst represented for his culture. That approach can’t work here. Ford is talking about a societal cause so multiple characters are called for and multiple characters are brought in.
Here the spark that ignites an investigation, murders, and so much more old pain brought back to light is Scarlet, a beautiful Korean drag queen and a wedding. The request? Locate a gay man who disappeared two decades ago whose son is getting married. Simple and yet the firestorm it causes triggers further pain, old heartache and antagonisms reignited that will touch not only Cole and Jae-Min, but spread even further to touch those they love.
Ford introduces so many characters and yet keeps each one fresh, interesting, and sometimes quite chilling in their impact on each other and the storyline. Or should I say storylines. There is never just one going on at a time. Cole has one investigation, the police have another, Jae-Min’s family has another drama going on and somehow, somewhere they will all intersect. And not in a good way.
One strength of Ford’s writing is that you never double guess her choices in plot or relationship obstacle. You may not like the way things are going within the relationship dynamics but given each character’s past history, you can certainly understand how slowly things may or may not be working out between the main characters. Things happen at a rapid pace (just not in the relationships) in these stories. When they slow, down, you know its not because happiness is around the corner. Usually its bullets or knives or something else to draw blood or end a life. This series is all about the small victories. Making it through another day. Hope.
In the end, that’s what Rhys Ford delivers. Hope and love. For Cole and Jae-Min. For a few others as well.
This is a seriously addictive series. From the characters to the location and its settings within the constrictive culture of the Korean community in California, this is a series to binge on, to luxuriate in, one by one. I simply can’t believe I missed them the first time around. But I’m catching up. If you missed them, catch up with me. If you found them the first time, go back and enjoy them again.
I highly recommend this book and the first in the series.
Cover art by Reece Notley. I love the covers. Great job with the tone and matching it to the rest in the series.
ebook, 234 pages
Published September 28th 2012 by Dreamspinner Press
original titleDirty Secret
ISBN 1613727763 (ISBN13: 9781613727768)
seriesCole McGinnis #2