Criminal Intentions: Junk Shop Blues by Cole McCade. 2018.
Content Warnings for review: Discussion of trauma and sex.
This is episode 2 in a contemporary police procedural slow burn m/m romance between homicide detectives on the Baltimore PD. It’s incredibly queer and complex and I have been excited about it since I first heard the author was writing it. It comes in episodes that are part of the same season, and it feels like there are individual arcs for each book but also a larger season arc and likely a series arc as well.
I did not review episode 1 after reading it, but I am thinking of reviewing the others as I go. I move slowly with things like this, as a trauma survivor reader I try not to take in too much intense violence in stories at once. From what I hear from other readers, this series is very bingeable so if you don’t have those concerns, please know that I think we are up to episode 7 and they come out every month, so there is much to binge. I want to note that this felt less intense in terms of the trauma material than episode 1; I had been told that by others, and want to confirm that was my reading experience as well.
I generally am not one for reading mysteries or crime books in order to figure out whodunit; that is not central to my reading experience. I can say I clocked whodunit fairly quickly in this episode, but I think that likely is not a reflection of the author’s skill in building a mystery story but more about what I bring to stories of this nature, and my own biases. So, its a data point, but I wouldn’t weigh it heavily in deciding whether to read if you are more interested in that aspect of stories like this. Instead, I’d suggest looking at other reviews to get a better sense of that aspect of this book.
What I read this for was the characters and the slow burn romance, not the crime/mystery aspect. And it really hit the spot for me in terms of those things, as McCade consistently does in his work. He is truly masterful at building complex characters, at having slow organic reveals of them as a story goes along, at building sexual and romantic tension, and at showing small moments of intimacy.
I am really enjoying watching Malcolm and Seong-Jae build connection and intimacy slowly, and the way they navigate their emotional armor in this episode made me all verklempt. There is a sexual slow burn and an emotional slow burn to this series and I am so appreciative of that; it’s incredibly well done and one of the deep pleasures of the series. This episode felt like it showed so much about what it’s like to live with PTSD and be working in a job that keeps on triggering you. It felt real to me as a trauma survivor who did work like that for many years. It’s rare to have depictions like this resonate, and I appreciated that.
I appreciated seeing Malcolm’s interlude with the musician. This episode has on the page sex but not between the MCs, which is somewhat unusual for many romances, but I really appreciated the insight into Malcolm’s character, and how well written this scene was, how it revealed character for both MCs, and impacted the romance arc and also illuminated things that I think will likely be important later. I also found the butch/fem dynamic between Malcolm and the piano player really beautiful, and enjoyed their chemistry, and how much Malcolm appreciated his femmeness. That aspect of the story was such a lovely counterpoint to the other gender dynamics at work in the story, and I think it helped shine a light on them. I treasure stories that capture butch/fem/me dynamics well, and that treat them with honor and respect, and it is rare for me to find m/m romance that does this. So that aspect of this book was a real treat.
I liked the way Malcom’s Jewishness was woven into the story; it resonated for me as a Jewish reader. I really appreciated the casual references to aromanticism in this episode, a lot. They felt like they contributed to creating a warm ending, despite all the open threads that had me all prickly. It takes a really deft hand to hold that kind of complexity, to finish this so it feels finished and bring the reader down carefully, while still drawing attention to open threads that will be picked up in some future episode. I am looking forward to future episodes.
Also, I want to thank McCade for the earworm of Constant Craving by kd lang.
- Bi Persian American Mizrahi Jewish man MC with PTSD.
- Gay demigray ace Korean American man MC with PTSD.
- Genderqueer/Two Spirit Lumbee secondary character.
- Aro Black Cubano American woman secondary character
- Native AmeriBlAsian POC demibisexual queer trans man author.
Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)
Trauma, lots of it. Both MCs have PTSD and it is actively triggered in this book for pretty much all of it. Detailed description of traumatic nightmare. Murder depicted graphically, blood and gore. Detailed depiction of autopsy. References to the drug trade and to addiction. References to queer men being murdered in the past. References to police violence. Depiction of therapy sessions focused on trauma. Parental controlling behavior and implications of child abuse. Alcohol use. Sex on the page.
- Source of the book: ARC from the author via Patreon.
- I am friends with the author, was a patron when he had an active Patreon, and have interviewed him for this site.
- All links to Amazon will be affiliate ones. If you buy through those links, I will make a small amount of money on that sale (which I plan to use to buy more books to review), but it will not add any to the cost of your product. It comes out of the company’s profits.
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