The Valley of the Shadow of Death
Author: Julie Bozza
Cover Artist: Nelson Mejia
Publisher: Manifold Press
Length: 218 pages
Joshua Delaney and Carmine Angelo Trezini, cop and low-level mobster, should have absolutely nothing in common; yet, accidentally brought together, they rapidly became both lovers and allies against important crime figure Matthew Picano. Of course, taking down a man like that was never going to be easy – but Josh has no idea of the scale of the sacrifice he will eventually be called upon to make.
Give it to Cryssy: she'll read anything. This is another not-HEA story.
Chicago police officer Joshua Delaney is dangerously naïve, showing no awareness of his surroundings, having no eye for the cronky, for what doesn't fit and may be dangerous. Someone less suited for police work is hard to imagine, and the wonder is not that he survives two attempts on his life in the first forty pages, it's that some earlier, more casual attempt wasn't successful.
Delany considers that if the way things ought to be differ from the way they are, they must be brought into alignment by the most direct way. This comes across as a nearly religious certainty, and like other religious revelations, it is infectious. Otherwise sensible cops and district attorneys are converted, with one lone skeptic in the FBI agent. He converts high-level (yes, the blurb says low level, but he runs one of the boss's prize properties and is described as the smartest of the inner circle) mobster Angelo Trezini to the side of the angels with his uncomplicated suggestion of redemption, and is converted with one kiss to being gay.
I would like to say it was more complex than that, that Trezini reconsidered his life and that Delaney was bowled over by Trezini's strength of personality, with latent desires surging out to overwhelm and confuse him, but it really was nearly that simple. By page 44 and less than 24 hours acquaintance, Trezini has taken the 'always thought he was straight' Delaney home to mama, announced his love and intention to commit slow suicide by going against his mafia boss/childhood friend, and they adjourn upstairs for Delaney's first ever experience of sex with another man.
The first ninety pages are full of this sort of simplistic plotting. Delaney comes across as a holy fool: much like the monk who started the Crusades but left the actual details to the kings and knights, he has this fab idea about taking down the local mob kingpin with Trezini's cooperation but leaves it to others to accomplish it. His contribution is having sex with Trezini three times a week, and he doesn't take Trezini's prediction of a greatly shortened lifespan seriously. The realist of the pair, Trezini is quite aware of the consequences of turning on his boss, but is prepared to pay that price as the cost of achieving redemption.
The second half picks up considerably, with the first signs of deep thought about what they are attempting, and about the relationship they've embarked on. It doesn't help that the first half is all distant third person; we never get close enough to either man to really experience what he's thinking or feeling. The distance is so great that they are still using last names even in middle of sex, and while the POV gets close enough to see some depth to both of them in the second half, all the truly contemplative scenes belong to third parties.
The set up demands that certain questions be asked, about loyalty, friendship, redemption. What are they? What does one owe others? Achieving redemption is not as simple as attempting a do over of the initial wrong turn, as this book implies; the one time Trezini shows his understanding of this is when he kills a young man who trusts him. Then he leaves the body and the matter disappears, even though this young man is one of their own. The questions go mostly unasked, and mostly unanswered.
The relationship is pretty much in the background; while the men form a strong bond, it goes unexamined, and serves primarily to support Trezini in his suicide mission. There is one very interesting take on the sex. When they do arrive at the moment of attempting anal sex, Delaney isn't thrilled down to his socks and yearns for it to be over, but he wants Trezini to be happy. Not sexy, but unique, and one of the few moments we see the relationship growing.
The ending is as tragic as the title promises, the last line the most moving in the entire work. The entire story improves as it goes on; had I not been reading for review, I would have bailed before page 60 for insta-love and implausibility, and would have missed the best parts. But I'm not entirely convinced the end was worth the beginning. 3 marbles