I've read the Cole McGinnis Series by Rhys Ford back to back; I started with the first of three books and I just couldn't stop reading until I finished the last one. Cole McGinnis stole my heart. He is the narrator of the books in this series and he's an ex-cop turned private investigator in Los Angeles. At the beginning of the first book he meets his (soon to be) lover Kim Jae-Min, when he is investigating the suicide of Jae-Min's cousin. All of Cole's investigations are, from the first book on, taking place in the midst of Korean culture. Jae is Korean and being gay in his culture is a big problem. This is a recurring theme in all the books. It's amazing how much these stories are drenched in Korean culture, without it being too overwhelming. I'm actually surprised at how much it fascinated me.
Cole himself is half Irish, half Japanese, grown up in the United States. When he came out to his father and stepmother they kicked him out of the house, but his older brother Mike was there for him. Before we meet him in the first book a horrible drama has occurred in his life while he was a cop: his friend and partner Ben shot Cole and his boyfriend Rick after which he killed himself without leaving behind a reason for his deed. Rick died and Cole nearly did as well. This loss is a big shadow in Cole's life and only when he meets Jae some of his grief and pain loosens up.
Cole's characterization is done excellently. He's a character with flaws and many layers. Thanks to his first person POV we get to know him really well, and the humor and sarcasm in his narrative makes his voice a delightful one. There's plenty of violence and danger in his life but his light tone of voice in certain situations makes it very bearable and sometimes even hilarious. It's hard not to love him. And it's great to see him have a few wonderful people in his life - like his brother Mike, his friend Bobby and his assistant Claudia - who are always there for him (as opposed to his parents and most of his old colleagues from the force). The characterization of these supporting characters is rich as well and a real bonus in these stories.
The books in this series each have two major plot arcs. One is the same in all three: Cole's evolving relationship with Jae. The other is a different suspense plot line in each book. In the first book it's Cole's investigation of the suicide of Jae's cousin. In the second book Cole investigates an old disappearance of a friend of Scarlet (his and Jae's friend). And in the third book it's a series of unexpected deaths of a few clients of a fortune teller who has asked him to look into them.
All these cases are suspenseful while a lot of people are killed in the process. Cole isn't presented as the super smart investigator who prevents things from getting worse. These are not really a whodunit sort of mysteries that need to be solved by him because everyone else is too stupid to figure things out. No, fortunately they are nothing like that. The events are much more capricious and unpredictable than in some of those type of books. I think that here they make for an excellently fitting and entertaining backdrop for the romance arc in this series.
The romantic plot line is going steady throughout the three books but is not devoid of a healthy dose of angst either. Jae is very much aware of what it means for his family when he'd come out as being gay. In his culture it will be a huge shame. So much so that his family would declare him dead. His strict upbringing prevents him from being who he really is. It's a feeling that is rooted deeply and one that stands between him and Cole like an invisible wall.
There's always a fear of losing Jae present in Cole's newfound purpose to live and love. I liked that the development of their relationship goes slow. But over the course of three books their love grows and becomes a more certain factor with each event in their lives. Meanwhile they have scorching hot, passionate sex from the beginning, that becomes more and more emotional over time too. The balance between the romantic arc and the suspense plot lines sometimes inclines to the first (with page long sex scenes for example) and sometimes leans over to the second, but overall I found them poised pretty well.
There are a few other things that made reading this series an enjoyable experience for me. Firstly, the use of language and the author's writing style. Ford's vocabulary is rich and encloses words that I seldom see in romance novels. And I'm not only talking about the colorful use of Korean and other Asian words. The writing style is a delightful example of 'showing' how the characters feel instead of 'telling' about it. And the comparative phrases that are being used are unique and never lacking humor.
Secondly, the presence and descriptions of Jae's cat, Neko. Cole eyes the little creature with humorous suspicion and acted contempt. And the way he describes the cat's behavior and actions makes Neko a very three-dimensional, lifelike 'character' in the story. I wouldn't have wanted to miss Neko's presence in this series.
Thirdly, the supporting cast of secondary characters. I've mentioned them before, but I can't emphasize enough how much the recurring secondary characters in this series are full-fledged, three-dimensional and colorful, distinct personalities. They are so much a part of Cole (and Jae's) life as well as making up their world, that I would be very sad if something would happen to them. It's almost as much for them as it is for Cole and Jae that I look forward to the next installment in this series.
And thank god the second book of Ford's Sinners series will be out next month: Whiskey and Wry. After the cliff hanger at the end of the first book, Sinner's Gin (which I've reviewed here) I can hardly wait to read that one either.
If you've never read any of Rhys Ford's books, I'd say the Cole McGinnis series would be a great place to start!
The books in this series:
#1 Dirty Kiss
#2 Dirty Secret
#3 Dirty Laundry
#3.5 Dirty Day (free short)
#4 Dirty Deeds (to be released)
Links: Rhys Ford's website | Ford's books at Dreamspinner Press