Flesh & Blood is the sequel to Ethan Stone’s In the Flesh debut novel. The strengths of the first novel were not the nearly non-existence romance but the pseudo interesting mystery and the author’s voice. Here the romance remains immaterial except for a lot of sex scenes while the mysteries are obvious, foreshadowed, and extremely cliché. The author’s voice is the best thing about this story which unfortunately fails in several ways. The writing tends to be abrupt and tells almost every time instead of showing. The actions are equally blunt with little descriptive prose. I didn’t mind that so much and actually like the brusque nature but the story is bland and too obvious, often gliding over incredibly difficult and complex problems in the blink of an eye. Sadly the sequel doesn’t stand up to the first book, although I’ll likely read the third book hoping it gets better.
The plot in the second book picks up with Cristian Flesh actually happy. He’s in a relationship with Colby and the two are making it work. Cris is finally smiling and his female partner Lex Luther (yes that’s really her name) is excited about the change. Their latest high profile case is to investigate an assault on a wealthy known pedophile. The investigation brings the two cops onto a prostitution ring involving minor boys and forces Flesh to face his past in more ways than one.
The main mystery has to do with the assault on the wealthy pedophile which leads to the prostitution ring. In some ways the investigation is very well portrayed. The case is hampered by lack of evidence and witnesses, forcing large amounts of time to pass while Cris and his partner scour for more information. There is a definite nod to reality in that the supporting characters all force Flesh to work for enough evidence to convict. Unfortunately in many ways this is also what causes the story to fall apart. There are so many conflicts and problems with the legal aspects of this that the story probably shouldn’t have tried for reality. You have to suspend disbelief to accept that Flesh could investigate the men involved in his own prostitution abuse without bias or being reassigned which can be done but then the conflicts just increase. Cris’ behavior while investigating is so far over any acceptable line that it’s not just one incident you could excuse for the sake of fiction. It’s constant.
Likewise Cris’ lover Colby gets involved as a lawyer and this sets up what could be delicious tension and conflict between the two men. Instead Colby makes a naïve and ridiculous decision that goes against his personality and ends any potential conflict almost immediately. The two men actually have an adult conversation and talk, which is nice to see but at the same time all this does is given an excuse for another gratitutous sex scene. The sex scenes are fine but there are a lot of them and instead of building pressure and problems between the two that could lead up to an emotional and satisfying resolution, the issues dissipate and end before they begin.
There are too many problems brought up in the space of the book and none of them are given the emotional and dramatic complexity they deserve. There is Colby’s profession and his later choices glossed over so fast they are unimportant. Cris’ reunion with his abuser, both his “pimp” and his father are equally short, unemotional, and lacking any significant impact. Cris’ realization of what happened to his brother and family should be a heart wrenching scene yet keeps the same tone and goes by so fast you almost miss what’s going on. Not to worry though because the legal system takes care of everything, those hurt are taken care of while the guilty get sent away forever and Cris is the philanthropist that makes everything magically right. The earlier ambiguity of law, the difficult task of proving guilt is so easily resolved with some ridiculous and very obvious twists that the various resolutions are almost boring. There’s no mystery, everything is foreshadowed and basically laid out for the reader to know immediately.
The biggest problem with this is that it makes the story way too fictional and perfect. The mystery is supposed to be gritty, dirty, and dealing with the pain and agony of young men forced to prostitute themselves leading to shame and often physical harm. This is totally negated by the easy resolutions offered where money, time, and legal issues aren’t really a problem. The story tries to balance the easy resolutions with some character deaths, which do help bring that gritty feel of drama. Yet these deaths aren’t enough to counteract the numerous problems brought up and dealt with in the next breath to be forgotten again. Cris spends the novel running from problem to problem, person to person, and that’s how the issues are dealt with as well. A possibly complex, fascinating obstacle is brought up but never fully developed and thus the reader is left feeling empty and cheated.
The writing is also very abrupt with a tendency to tell instead of show. Often Cris will dump large amounts of information in dialogue or thoughts to give the reader any necessary details. This is juxtaposed the very brusque nature of the prose, which lacks any real descriptive quality. This isn’t bad per se and personally this is my favorite part about this author. Their voice is distinctive, punchy, and keeps my interest even when the story itself fails to achieve the same. The characters and language are very masculine and tend to offer the most complexity in the scenes where they interact with lovers or close friends. Here the emotion is shown in a touch, quiet word, or look. There isn’t a lot of flowery dialogue although the nicknames became way too repetitive considering Cris isn’t supposed to be a lovey, dovey kind of guy. But again this is the best part of the book and feels crisp, distinctive, and unique.
Unfortunately that’s not enough to make a story exciting and successful so this falls ~2.5 stars for me. The writing kept my attention but as soon as Cris went to his family it really went downhill. That entire storyline should have been more complicated and dramatic then it was and combined with the earlier too easy fixes caused the story to really unravel at the end. Those that liked the first book will likely want to see how Flesh develops and changes – which is a lot. I probably wouldn’t recommend the story but I’m curious to read the third book in the series so I haven’t given up.