Saturday, September 22, 2012

Man-Hunt by Angelia Sparrow and Naomi Brooks

Title: Man-Hunt
Author: Angelia Sparrow and Naomi Brooks
Cover Artist: Trace Edward Zaber
Publisher:  Amber Allure
Genre: Historical
Length: 14k words

June is too fine a month for a man to die. So when Thomas Lanton is informed that he's finally facing execution for the murder of his brother-in-law, he manages a prison break and flees.

For a while, Thomas's good luck holds out, and the attractive and lonely farmer in whose barn he hides takes a serious liking to him. But as Thomas soon discovers, not all chains are made of iron, nor all prisons built with stone. Indeed, sometimes blue eyes and soft words can be as effective as bars, and love can be too heavy a piece of baggage to take on the lam...

We first meet our POV character Thomas, after he’s escaped from prison, about a week ahead of his date with the electric chair. Running like a fox and using the same tricks to evade the hounds, he finally holes up in a barn, where he figures he can exchange some chores for a meal and some clothing—he left his prison stripes miles away for the hounds to bay at.

Unfortunately he can’t liberate anything that fits, so Hank finds Thomas in a horse blanket and a shirt that can’t button across him, which is fine by him. Thomas has more needs than just a pair of trousers, which would only get in the way anyhow, and the two of them are getting it on in almost no time at all. What follows is a quick exploration of sex, farm chores, and maybe even finding out about love.

The authorities of course want to find Thomas and let him “ride the lightning” for the death of his brother-in-law, harsher justice than a drunken brawl gone wrong really merits. They’re combing the county, and there’s only so many places to hide. Thomas doesn’t try to plead innocent to Hank—he doesn’t try to plead anything but being a tough man in hard circumstances, and that he can be a nice guy to have around. Hank find this pretty convincing.

I enjoyed the story, with some confusion, since it’s set in some nameless place and uncertain time. Some of the slang says ‘twenties, some says ‘sixties or ‘seventies (just because a word is older than you think doesn’t take away its associations), and there’s Model Ts and implications of Dust Bowl so this story is also lost in time. It’s a time and place where a few whittled wooden spoons can bring cash enough for a bag of flour. A few things brought sideways looks from me, such as the lightning speed of getting from death threats to the promise of sack time—less than a page. Not that Thomas couldn’t just take what he wants from his much smaller host, but he’s been in prison and knows more than he’d like about taking vs. giving.

The book has lots and lots of sex, which drives the plot, but surely there’s something around the homestead that works better for lube than spit.

Thomas and Hank are good together, settling into a rhythm occasionally disturbed by lawmen coming to hunt for the condemned killer. Bloodhounds and talkative shopkeepers fill them with fear, and there are only so many ways to elude them and stay together.

The story has what might be considered a “happy for now” ending given the alternatives, or maybe a “happier than it could have been.” Starting with the darkness of avoiding Death Row, the possibilities of “handholding in the sunset” endings aren’t there, and the authors don’t try to shove in anything that discordant. It’s perfect considering what came before.

I just wish I’d felt more grounded in time and place, and seen more development between the men. Hank became a perfect “farm wife” almost instantly, as if clean barns and the possibility of sex without condemnation overrode any trust issues he might have entertained. There was no transition from fear to willingness, and they went straight from introductions to trust, or behaving with trust.

Read this story with an eye to the language—it’s perfect for the characterization and sets the mood, and hold tight to the promises of the ending. 3.75 stars

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