“And now it is clear that our greatest enemy has always been ourselves.”
“The greatest risk in any conflict is becoming the enemy you hate.”
Patrick Henry Burke is the definition of “feckless.” He is a cute, nineteen-year-old twink, not stupid but no brain trust, either, He currently works at a high-end but typically low-paying service job in Washington DC’s most elegant restaurant. He is not well-informed about anything political or cultural, other than the location of all the gay bars near his not-yet-fashionable DuPont Circle neighborhood (which I had never known was referred to as the Fruit Loop).
It is Burke’s feckless lack of guile that makes him the perfect protagonist for Marshall Thornton’s latest novel of ‘romantic suspense.’ Patrick doesn’t see the world in black and white, because he doesn’t think about it enough to form an opinion. He thinks only of the moment.
And then Patrick kisses a prince. A Persian prince, to be exact, and from that kiss unrolls a story that starts out sweetly droll and turns increasingly dark and uncomfortable. This is a very different kind of coming of age story, set against the backdrop of the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-80, when Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan are vying for the White House. It is a time – as Patrick vaguely muses at one point in the narrative – when being gay is actually still illegal in most of the United States; it is a time when most Americans have not yet woken up to the reality of our own historical misdeeds, our own compromised global policies, our own internal social corruption. Patrick trusts what he has been taught to trust.
I didn’t like Patrick much, because I wasn’t supposed to. I was twenty-five when this story takes place, having just begun my first job in my chosen field, five years into a relationship with the man who is still by my side. I wouldn’t have given a nitwit like Patrick more than a passing glance, no matter how cute he was. Which is exactly what Thornton Marshall wants.
We dismiss Patrick, giggling and rolling our eyes at his thoughtless innocence. Marshall vividly recreates the strange world of Washington DC, and the way Patrick engages it, oblivious to most of what’s going on around him. Then with equal skill, Marshall shows us exactly how Patrick begins to grow up. He shows us Patrick’s conflicting emotions, and his increasing inability to ignore the disconnect between what he sees going on around him and what he has been told by so-called ‘good guys.’ As a more thoughtful, wiser Patrick Burke emerges, shadows begin to loom around him. Suddenly, what seemed like a bit of a cloak-and-dagger lark turns sinister, and Patrick begins to question everything.
This is, of course, when I began to love his character.
Marshall wrote this book purposely to offer it as a cautionary tale in the context of our own political turmoil – poised as we are on a future that could well be appalling, in a world that seems determined to tear itself apart as we ignore the vast historical lessons of the previous century.
Marshall also wrote this book, he tells us, to be a fun romance. The problem is that the darkness ultimately kind of taints all the fun. The surprise ending manages to avoid complete catastrophe, but somehow I was never quite able to feel that I had actually avoided the apocalypse. In spite of the swelling violins at the finale, I ended up emotionally in a place similar to where we are now in 2019, my mind reeling over the geo-political implications of Patrick’s adventure.
Don’t get me wrong: I liked this book a lot. I just think Marshall Thornton’s story had what I think of as unintended consequences.
- Paperback: 246 pages
- Publisher: Independently Published (3 September 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1688743413
- ISBN-13: 978-1688743410
- Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.6 x 20.3 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 336 g
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