Shades of Gray by Brooke McKinley
Miller Sutton, a by-the-book FBI agent, is starting to see some troubling shades of gray in his black-and-white world. He comes face-to-face with his doubts in the person of Danny Butler, a mid-level drug runner Miller hopes to use to catch a much larger fish: Roberto Hinestroza, a drug lord Miller has pursued for years.
Danny has no interest in being a witness against his boss, both out of a sense of twisted loyalty and because he knows double-crossing Hinestroza is a sure death sentence. But he reluctantly agrees to cooperate, and as he suspects, it doesn’t take long for Hinestroza to figure out the betrayal.
Miller is surprised to discover Danny’s not the career-criminal lowlife he expected; at the same time, Danny finds himself helplessly attracted to Miller’s innate goodness. They barely begin to explore the sparking attraction between them when Hinestroza’s hit man tracks them down, and then they’re on the run, both for their lives and for any kind of love.
[I love this cover.]
This is easily one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year. Captivating and enthralling, Shades of Gray shines with a tight plot and superior characterization. The writing is engaging and the characters have incredible depth. There are no cookie cutter villains or superheroes, only variations of good and evil within each person. The situations created are interesting and complex with few easy solutions and only one or two last minute heroics but even those are tempered by high physical and emotional costs. Although the story may seem basic there is so much more to it that m/m romance fans will easily love this offering.
As the summary offers, the story is about a rather uptight FBI agent, Miller Sutton that encounters a witness that breaks apart his carefully constructed world. When Sutton forces Danny Butler into testifying against Danny’s drug boss, neither man could predict the far reaching consequences to their lives and those around them. As the legal case starts to unravel, their lives are in danger and an unexpected attraction comes close to costing them everything.
The plot is actually more complex than such a simple suggests and much to the story’s benefit. The set up is rather basic with a typical threat and blackmailing of a reluctant witness into cooperating with the police but the twists and turns become more complicated as the emotions of Danny and Miller become more involved. This also extends to the characters surrounding the two and although there is a happy ending, the fight to get there consumes the entire book. Even after the FBI case is resolved, Danny and Miller must fight to be together against their own preconceived notions and demons that attempt to deny the two a solid ending.
Here the characterization shines so incredibly well. Miller Sutton is an uptight, socially awkward FBI agent that has always believed in the system. For the past few years though, he’s been increasingly uncomfortable with the techniques and sacrifices used to ensure the greater good. The façade Miller uses to get the job done and hide away his true self is likewise starting to unravel as the doubts, questions, and concerns he’s ignored for years are becoming louder. Meeting Danny doesn’t change Miller intrinsically so much as Danny awakens all those fears, questions, and desires that Miller’s hidden away for so long, even from himself. This ties into what could have been an easy “gay for you” theme but here Miller is shown that he was always gay, he just tried hard to deny the fact. Desiring Danny to such an extent forced Miller out of his hiding and to face his true self and if he weren’t with Danny, he’d be with another man.
Similarly Danny is not a black and white criminal that is saved by the love of a good FBI agent. Danny grew up in an abusive home, desperate for the approval of his father and fell into a life of crime. While his decisions and choices at a young age were disastrous, Danny owns those decisions completely. He doesn’t make excuses for his past and in fact struggles with accepting that while he may bad decisions and certainly is no angel, he is not an evil, horrible person. Danny struggles with himself throughout the book with doing what he instinctively wants to do – stay in the life he knows, no matter how dangerous – and struggling with a new, reformed life. There are numerous poignant scenes where Miller and Danny are discussing their past and present where each can’t quite understand the choices of the other person. Miller can’t understand that Danny doesn’t want a life in a minimum wage paying job with no friends, no security, and no familiarity. He may be alive but he wouldn’t be happy. This confusion mirrors Danny struggles with the idea that Miller can love Danny enough to make sacrifices for him.
Not only are the two main characters given depth but everyone from Danny’s ex-lover Griff to the drug boss Hinestroza and even the lawyer Patterson are shown to have more complexity than their stereotypes. Hinestroza is also shown as a loving father, grandfather, and family man. He gives Danny the acceptance he craves yet doesn’t hesitate to order torture or death at the slightest provocation. Each supporting character is given their own complicated personalities that show the good and bad parts of everyone. The choices and decisions each person makes that may have horrible consequences are given more interest than usual predictable results.
As great and entertaining as the book is, if there are any flaws it is in the ending. The story creates such wonderful dramatic tension between the men and thankfully gives quite a bit of insight into each man’s thought process and the struggles they go through together and separately. The extended look at their time apart only increases the tension and puts the happy ending into real doubt. Unfortunately the writing and prose excelled in creating this doubt and the ending didn’t completely eliminate all questions. There is a happy ending, more of a happy for now, which although understandable left me wanting more. After the pain, emotional turmoil, angst, and ultimately separation, I just wanted more of an emotional payoff for the investment. I’m not convinced these two will stay together. However, this is a minor quibble and one that won’t stop me from enjoying the story again.
Overall this is an excellent story filled with action, tension, drama, good, evil and all the various shades in between. The excellent cover art only helps the story and I can easily recommend this book to others. You won’t be disappointed.
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