Hard Tail by J.L. Merrow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
JL Merrow usually works pretty well for me with her smooth writing, great wit, and adorable characters. Hard Tail is no departure from that and feels like a solid comfort read that fits well with the author’s backlist. The situation is interesting with some good and obvious research thrown in. I think the external tension drew out a bit too long and in a very predictable way. Due to this some sections of the book seem to drone on while others flew by easily giving an uneven pace. Despite this the nice guy characters and cute chemistry should be enough to win over fans of the author.
The plot is your basic gay in denial guy meets adorably cute, open guy resulting in sparks. Tim begins the book with an announcement from his wife that their marriage is over and she’s leaving him for a friend of his. Since Tim is really gay in denial, he’s not too broken up over the marriage and heads out of town for a while. He is running his brother’s bike shop while said brother recovers from a leg injury. The only other bike shop employee is the adorable but klutzy Matt. Matt is in an abusive relationship and he and Tim dance around each other for most of the book before admitting their feelings.
First off Merrow does a superior job with her clean writing, dry wit, and clear research. The story includes quite a bit of bike information and this never overwhelms but fits the situation while being mostly correct. The only discrepancies I could point out are more subjective to the sport but the amount of research is evident and appreciated. Likewise the English countryside setting is well described and fits seamlessly into the story and the characters themselves. One of the aspects I particularly enjoy about this author’s writing is the ability to feel fresh and interesting with familiar elements. The descriptive quality is very nice but never overwhelms the story itself.
The characters are nicely developed with some depth. I think they tend to slide a bit easily into stereotypes – the adorable klutz, the controlled martial artist, the steroid closet case – which is unfortunate. This takes away some individuality from the characters and makes them feel more predictable and rote. We only see into Tim’s head and he spends most of the time overanalyzing and freaking out about everything. He’s paranoid and gives off mixed signals, perhaps with good reason to both, but it makes him difficult to like all the time. On the other hand Matt is cute and fun, making for a shy foil to Tim’s mental acrobatics.
I did find the pace to be uneven. Some of the scenes are quite engaging and the pages fly by easily while others seem to drag. Sadly I never really found Matt and Tim’s encounters together to be that great. I like their tension and dance a lot more than I like the scenes at the end once they were together. Their relationship also feels a bit like a rebound for both of them than lasting love but that’s not a criticism. Some of the plot is simply too obvious and predictable. It’s easy to see where the story is heading at most times and it takes away the excitement of getting to the next scene. Countering this is good writing and enough interest in the story and characters to get past any parts that drag.
Overall Hard Tail is an enjoyable read. It fits very well with the author’s backlist and likely fans of Merrow will especially appreciate this. Anyone new to the author can get a good feel for the typical style. I’d recommend this one but it’s not one I’ll read again.