This is a familiar story with a few good twists. The writing didn’t always work for me and often that more than anything else ruined my enjoyment but the characters, setting, and plot are engaging. As a debut novel, I think the author shows a lot of potential and readers will find the themes used familiar and comforting with good tension.
Greg Matthews is an officer in a new assignment and determined to do things right this time. He’s not going to get distracted by yearnings for another man and instead plans to work hard and advance his military career. Greg’s plans are thwarted however when a scheming upper officer blackmails Greg into spying on gay bar owner Karl. Greg is supposed to seduce Karl and find a way to shut down the last gay bar in the area. Yet complications predictably arise when Greg’s emotions are involved.
The plot is very conventional and one readers will instantly recognize. Greg is the officer caught between his family and career and trying not to hurt an innocent man, Karl. The confusion and dichotomy is well crafted and Greg truly struggles with this conflict for the majority of the story. Greg’s personality develops and shows his angst and turmoil between his duty and his heart. This is a common theme but it’s well used and offers a good source of constant tension and drama.
Both Karl and Greg are sympathetic characters with their own struggles and flaws. Karl is surprisingly likable, considering he has casual sex with a hustler named Ryan several times in the book but yet none of these take away from the connection between Karl and Greg. If anything they cement Karl’s feelings towards Greg and that’s a real credit to the story to be able to pull that off in a positive way. Greg’s struggles highlight his weaknesses and flaws as well, often dithering and taking the easy way out most of the time instead of facing his fears and problems. Yet this doesn’t make him a bad character or unlikable, instead he comes across as relatable and human. He makes the bad choices an average person would make, perhaps not the popular strong choices but the honest ones.
Some of the problems for me though are in the world building, which is non-existent. The story is supposedly science fiction and set in a futuristic world but really the setting is contemporary with a few word changes. There is no real context and breadth that convey a new world and new attitudes. In fact these various characters and especially the military feel very contemporary. The “don’t ask don’t tell” policy is the backbone of the story as Greg must hide his sexuality to have a military career. So It’s unfortunate the science fiction aspect is even included since this would probably appeal to more readers as a contemporary military romance.
Furthermore not all of the plot twists make sense. The courtroom scene towards the end is melodramatic and slightly ridiculous; it of course wouldn’t happen like that. The resulting resolution feels too easy and too pat, considering all the legitimate tension and angst the story has built up between the two men. Their forgiveness and love, while nice and romantic, feels too fast and complacent. The biggest problem for me though is the writing style of using rhetorical questions to offer information. Greg, as the main third person narrator, questions every single thing. He can’t do any action it seems like without questioning all the alternatives first. I realize this is to offer more information to the reader and give insight into Greg’s thought process but it became incredibly annoying.
Some readers may not mind the question technique and the fact that this tends to tell rather than show action. Likewise some readers are likely to really enjoy the fact that this is more of a contemporary military romance than a science fiction/fantasy story. If so, then I’d easily recommend Liar’s Waltz as a fast, absorbing read with a lot of hot sex and nicely crafted main characters. I’m interested to see what the author does next and just hope the characters don’t question everything first.