Shades of Gray by Brooke McKinley – Retro Reviews
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: FBI Agent and Informant, Contemporary Setting, (at times) Graphic Violence, Psychological – Loss/Grief +
Length: 310 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Miller Sutton, a by-the-book FBI agent, is starting to see some troubling shades of gray in his black-and-white world. He comes face-to-face with his doubts in the person of Danny Butler, a mid-level drug runner Miller hopes to use to catch a much larger fish: Roberto Hinestroza, a drug lord Miller has pursued for years.
Danny has no interest in being a witness against his boss, both out of a sense of twisted loyalty and because he knows double-crossing Hinestroza is a sure death sentence. But he reluctantly agrees to cooperate, and as he suspects, it doesn’t take long for Hinestroza to figure out the betrayal.
Miller is surprised to discover Danny’s not the career-criminal lowlife he expected; at the same time, Danny finds himself helplessly attracted to Miller’s innate goodness. They barely begin to explore the sparking attraction between them when Hinestroza’s hitman tracks them down, and then they’re on the run, both for their lives and for any kind of love.
Preface to Review:
I’ve been rereading books of a night time that are separate to my current read-for-review books. They’re books I loved when I first read them, some I loved on second and subsequent reads. I thought I’d throw a few of my favourite retro reads up on the blog because I want them on here. I also wanted to share them with people who check this site out and read our reviews in case they’ve never read these gems before.
I first read this book four and a half years ago. I wrote a review on Goodreads at the time but I never did put it on a blog and I think that’s a travesty. So here’s Brooke McKinley’s first and only book, and isn’t that a huge shame because this is one good writer and this book is a genre classic.
What a fabulous, well written, well named book Shades of Gray is. Brooke McKinley has produced an absolute cracker of a character driven, psychological, moving book. I loved the two main characters, Danny and Miller, but right from the outset it was Danny that I was drawn to. It was Danny I liked. Miller had to work for my approval.
Danny Butler is caught on a gun possession charge by local police but it soon becomes an FBI case when Special Agent Miller Sutton, a man who has been tracking Danny Butler for three years, steps in to take over the case. He has bigger fish to fry. He wants drug kingpin Roberto Hinestroza to stand trial, and Danny Butler is the man who can give him exactly what his ambitious self wants. The end justifies the means has been Miller’s MO for seven years at the Bureau. Although we discover that lately there have been cracks
Danny is in his early thirties and worked for Hinestroza since he was eighteen. The thing is, Danny is this incredibly laidback, calm, positive and likeable guy. It’s easy to look past his rap sheet to the man with the easy smile who has never been given much of anything. His father brutal, his mother apathetic. Hinestroza gave him more attention than his own parents, whether that be good or bad. Most people need to be noticed, need some approval, and Hinestroza knows how to work the emotions of the men who ply illegal trade for him.
Miller Sutton’s parents cared for him, but his mother died when he was young and his father, whilst alive, died emotionally along with his wife. Miller’s mother wanted her children educated. His father made sure Miller met those expectations, since his siblings found themselves caught in Middle America. Miller was the one left to meet educational and life expectations for the family. Miller’s pretty sure that being gay is not an expectation that his family, colleagues, or society considers worthwhile, so he drilled it to the back of his subconscious and never let it out… until Danny Butler. He has a fiancée of five years standing, Rachel. Settling down and having a white picket fence with Rachel and kids is pretty much what’s expected. Rachel will help him fit. So Miller does what he does for perceived normalcy.
The only iffy part of this book is the initial attraction between Danny and Miller. A not so concrete – as opposed to emotionally abstract – reason they risk their (polar opposite) careers and their lives for one another. However, having said that, a seemingly sensible and mapped-out life and the heart’s desires sometimes make for interestingly unexpected bedfellows. Once Danny and Miller find their chemistry, and they really do, it is a smouldering burn to a fire that is incendiary.
Danny’s eyes were foggy with lust, his throat vibrating under Miller’s mouth as he groaned when Miller stroked him through his jeans, fast and rough. “Did he ever make you come as hard as I did last night?” Miller demanded. He could hear the insecurity behind his words but didn’t know how to hide it, his hand digging into Danny’s thigh. “Did he?”
The sex in this book is very raw and hot, and it’s also breathtaking, at times feeling so intimate and personal. Never, ever is it gratuitous. Miller can deny, deny, deny, not deal with what they’re doing, for many reasons – his career, he’s sleeping with his informant, he’s never allowed himself to believe he’s gay, all the while knowing it to be true. No matter what, though, he can’t let Danny go. He revels in the feel of him, the passion, the intensity of being with a man. He also can’t deny the camaraderie and ease they’re building. Criminal or not, he is engulfed by his feelings for someone he’s observed for years purely as a means to an end – to catch Roberto Hinestroza. Now he’s having sex with him, falling for him, battering at personal walls for him – although that is not something he should allow himself the luxury of.
Danny, on the other hand, knows what he likes. He’s not ashamed of being gay and he’s nothing if not understanding and patient. He finds it hard to give up Hinestroza, he finds it hard to give up a life he’s known since he was eighteen. He finds it hard to give certain information to Miller. But he’s hooked on the man behind the FBI agent. He likes the idea of being hooked on being a better person.
Miller is a prick at times – sleeping with Danny then going into FBI mode and grilling him for info. He uses a nightmare to garner a name from Danny that can be fed back and investigated. He uses a moment of weakness comment Danny makes about killing someone to find out more through FBI channels, even though you know, he knows, Danny is not a murderer. But Miller can’t let a lead go. Getting Hinestroza is all important to him. What he’s finding is that when you get to know someone it’s not so palatable to promise what you can’t deliver, and to casually lie in order to get what you want – shades of gray start to creep into his black and white outlook.
This book is part crime novel, part gay romance and most definitely part psychological study of people and their interactions with others around them. It asks us to examine what it is that constitutes a relationship. Is there such a thing as a normal relationship, and if so who makes that judgement call? Maybe normal to me or to others also encompasses some dysfunction. Sometimes we may love someone who does not live in the world the same way we do, and yet we can still see something beautiful and worthwhile in them. Life is full of shades of grey and both MCs experience that up close and personal.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, Shades of Gray is a classic in the genre. It’s the sort of book you read only to find the books following are a letdown and you want to be back in Miller and Danny’s world instead. I’ve added this review to the blog now because I hope even more people are tempted to read this fantastic book at some stage.
While the book is told in a mostly linear fashion there are flashbacks. I’m not always a fan of flashbacks in my books but it works here to help unravel two complex characters and the reasons they are who they are. I love Danny and Miller together, it’s where they’re meant to be. This book stays with you after finishing and is a definite re-reader. Ms McKinley’s writing is insightful, beautiful (some of the lines are just glorious), poetic, gritty, funny and very real. I hope she writes again at some stage in the future. If she has written under another name I’d love to know that that is. Every time I reread this book it remains a solid 5 Stars!