Saturday, March 2, 2013

Collusion by Eden Winters

Title: Collusion
Author: Eden Winters
Cover Artist: Trace Edward Zaber
Publisher: Amber Allure
Genre: contemporary, action/adventure
Length: 275 pages

Dead men can’t love.

Former drug trafficker Richmond “Lucky” Lucklighter “died” in the line of duty while working off a ten-year sentence in service to the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau, only to be reborn as Simon “Lucky” Harrison. The newbie he trained, former Marine Bo Schollenberger, is now his partner on (and maybe off) the job. It’s hard to tell when Lucky doesn’t understand relationships or have a clue what any sane human is doing in his bed. Bo’s nice to have around, sure, but there’s none of that picking-out-china-together crap for Lucky.

While fighting PTSD, memories of a horrid childhood, and a prescription drug addiction, Bo is paying for his mistakes. Using his pharmacy license for the good guys provides the sort of education he never got in school. Undercover with his hard-headed partner, Bo learns that not everything is as it seems in the world of pharmaceuticals.

When a prescription drug shortage jeopardizes the patients at Rosario Children’s Cancer Center, it not only pits Bo and Lucky against predatory opportunists, but also each other. How can they tell who the villains are? The bad guys don’t wear black hats, but they might wear white coats.

Forget sleep, I had to find out how this worked out. With a fast paced and tense external plot plus a relationship moving to a new level, Collusion kept me turning the page until I got to the end. Diversion, the first Bo and Lucky book (review here), did the same thing to me, and this is a more than worthy follow-up. I’d say the story stands alone, but the first one is too good to pass up.

Again we’re in Lucky’s point of view throughout. He’s a prickly guy, hurt often enough that he keeps the world at bay with his eternal smart-assery, and he’s barely been able to let Bo under his skin. Sex, fine, eating Bo’s cooking, also fine, clinging to each other in the night because that keeps away both of their demons, extra fine, as long as it’s on Lucky’s turf. Since Lucky would rather cuddle a palmetto bug than admit he’s in a relationship, Bo has his hands full.

Both men are agents of a fictional drug enforcement agency, and we get to see Lucky at work, first busting up a petty diversion ring from undercover, which also shows us the internal department tensions. Lucky’s antagonized everyone at one time or another, repaid in ghastly aliases and atrocious undercover vehicles. The inside of Lucky’s head will make you snort your drink on your reader:
Who in their right fucking mind deliberately painted a car chicken shit green? And not any old garden-variety chicken shit green either, but a fucking ugly-assed, glow-in-the-dark chicken shit green, like a Rhode Island Red ate radioactive corn or something.
Bo and Lucky then go undercover at a children’s cancer center, in search of the opportunists who’d buy up and then resell critical drugs at enormously inflated prices. This part of the plot is unfortunately true, as the author’s forward explains: the gray market is being shut down one tiny step at a time, but these issues are ripped straight from the headlines. Bo is a pharmacist, which allows him access to the internal workings of the hospital’s pharmacy from his new position as assistant buyer, and also lets him do something concrete for the kids with the bald heads and iffy lifespans. His heart breaks for them, and he can’t see why Lucky can step back and look at this problem from any other angle.

There’s fabulous tension between Bo and Lucky, as they work through the gray market and drug supply issues, which turn tragic and dangerous for patients and agents alike. Also a lot of sex, but Lucky has grave difficulties relating to Bo without involving sex—admitting he cares for anyone seems like a weakness and it takes him a while to embrace it. Which is fine—this is hot stuff. (Assless chaps scene=RAWR!)

Lucky’s trademark banter is here in full force, and Bo gives it back good as he gets, until he’s overwhelmed by events. Even though we aren’t in his head, we have no trouble seeing Bo as a man buckling under conflicting demands. The problem he needs to solve is not the same problem his heart demands he solve, and Lucky become the other side of Bo’s coin.

Bo and Lucky aren’t going to completely solve this drug-related crisis: that’s going to take the combined weight of the DEA, FDA, and Congress and hasn’t happened yet, but they are intent on cleaning up their little corner of the world. The author has a deft hand here: the issues are troubling, the danger is real, but it doesn’t go completely grim.

The ending was perfectly in character for both men, and the last line made me laugh out loud. Just perfect for a couple of men who don’t do mush—Lucky’s lines at the end make you want to both squish him in a big hug and smack him upside the head, but Bo knows exactly how to respond.

This is a finely balanced work, with a gripping plot and an evolving relationship. Bo and Lucky are a great team, and this is a great read. 5 marbles
5 marbles

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