Phew. Gotta catch my breath here a bit.
I want romance in my books. The kind with deep connections, plenty of fluff and an HEA. And I got that here. But I got so much more to the point where the romance took a back seat to the rest of the story. And I was fine with that because the thriller/suspense part was so amazing I sacrificed lunch with my colleagues today to spend an hour more reading in order to finally get to the bottom of things.
After a terrorist attack in DC, Federal Judge Tom Brewer is the lucky(!) man who gets to preside over the ensuing court case. The detailed scenes from the trial and the politics surrounding the whole thing should have make me run away screaming - I would usually consider stuff like that utterly boring. But not in this book. I was completely on-the-edge-of-my-seat-spellbound by all of it. It is so well written I could almost feel the tension from that court room radiate off my Kindle.
In parallel to the criminal case Tom and U.S. Marshal Mike Lucciano are getting close but having to hide their relationship Mike would otherwise be pulled off the protective detail assigned to the trial making it impossible for them to be together. And that is just not an option. Tom needs Mike presence, needs him to hold him up through the nightmare of having the entire world watching his courtroom in combination with taking his first tentative steps towards coming out of the closet.
Which brings me to the part of the book that got to me the most; Tom's struggles to overcome the crippling fear of being 'found out'. A fear he has been living with for twenty-five years. The story of how he ended up pretty much running into the closet and bolting the door from the inside, his memories of the world and society in the early nineties from his perspective as a gay man with ambitions, the fear he still carries with him through life and which has kept from getting close to anyone for so many years. It is all so absolutely heart-breaking. And knowing that when it comes to this part of the book, none of it is fiction just makes it even worse.
I actually went and googled 'bowers vs hardwick*'. It's one of those things my small mind just cannot grasp. And we are not talking 17th century here but the 1980s! The case took place during Tom's youth and we get to see the impact it had on him. Having a court confirm that you being you is basically illegal is a concept I cannot comprehend. It hurt to read, yet I am grateful for this part of the book. Grateful for the way it shows that BS laws actually affect people. That they cause real damage to people.
To sum up: I loved this book. There will definitely be more Tal Bauer on my reading list in the future.
(On a side note - I also learned that apparently it is even today illegal to sell sex toys in Alabama. But I guess nothing should surprise me anymore!)
*Short version: The court in this case basically confirmed that it was ok for Georgia to have a law forbidding gay sex even behind the closed doors of someone's private home.
I particular like (yeah, that's sarcasm!) the Wikipedia note on 'later comments' from one of the majority-vote justices: "However, Powell believed that the case was one of little importance and in 1990 stated that he hadn't devoted thirty minutes to thinking about it since the ruling."
Little importance? Of course it was to everyone who wasn't actually gay. I'm pretty sure it was pretty important to a lot of other people....