Title: Olives for the Stranger (Have Body, Will Guard #4)
Author: Neil Plakcy
Publisher: Loose Id
Genre: Action/Adventure, Mystery
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 rating stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: I thought this a perfectly balanced mix of mystery, adventure and erotic love story, and the exotic settings – the city of Tunis, the Tunisian countryside, and Marseilles – were an added bonus!
The Blurb: As demonstrators and police spar in the streets of Tunis, bodyguards Aidan and Liam must protect Leila, a young girl whose mother has been taken into police custody. While the threats against her and her activist parents grow, hunky ex-SEAL Liam is stuck in the Tunisian countryside while teacher and novice bodyguard Aidan travels to France on his own with Leila.
Liam must deal with his emotions once separated from his partner, while Aidan struggles to protect Leila and her father from a deadly villain as Liam has taught him. Both men must examine the depths of their love for each other and satisfy themselves that more than just sexual desire keeps them together.
This book is part of a series, but it can be very well read as a standalone as there is enough back ground info and the mystery case is completed over the course of this book.
Liam and Aidan are two expatriate Americans, living and working together in Tunis. The story of how the ex-SEAL and the former ESL teacher met and fell in love is told in Neil Plakcy’s Three Wrong Turns in the Desert (which I could’ve sworn I saw reviewed on this site, but I must’ve been mistaken as I couldn’t find the post).
Anyway, at the beginning of this book, they have been together for a year and a half. Aidan still takes the occasional teaching or translating job, and has also joined Liam’s bodyguard business. But even though they are now business partners as well as life partners, Aidan is still a bodyguard in training and Liam is his teacher, and this small imbalance of professional skills subtly carries over into their everyday life. They love each other deeply, no doubt about that on either part, but Liam finds himself unable to rely on Aidan the way he used to on his fellow SEALs. Liam knows that Aidan can take care of himself, that he has a different set of skills of his own to deal with trouble, but the fact remains that Aidan is less battle-tested, and so Liam’s protectiveness tends to run wild to the point of belittling his partner or trying to wrap him up in cotton wool, even though he doesn’t actually mean to and feels bad about it afterward.
Aidan on the other hand knows that he is less experienced, but Liam’s behavior often makes him feel inferior, even disregarded by his lover. He tries to make up for this with bravado, which sometimes ends him up in even more trouble, and with taking charge in their sexual relationship. Aidan is the more temperamental of the two, and also the more sociable personality. However, he doesn’t talk about his feelings any more than Liam does; instead, he tends to bottle up his little hurts, expecting Liam, in a way, to read his mind. But what made Aidan such a likable character to me, he doesn’t let things fester to the point of bitterness. One way or the other, he always works through his huffiness and welcomes Liam back, literally and figuratively, he’s secure enough in the knowledge of loving and being loved in turn.
I liked this a lot about Liam’s and Aidan’s relationship; it is firmly rooted in mutual love, but in no way perfect. Both make mistakes, but both are ready to forgive. The way they are with each other feels realistic, there are two people who hold each other and their relationship in high regard and work hard to make it work. They haven’t yet reached happily ever after, but they are on a good way there.
The mystery/ adventure part was no less intriguing. Liam and Aidan are hired by another gay couple, John and Farid, to safeguard the olive groves Farid inherited from his father and ideally, to find out who is behind a series of sabotage acts they suffered from recently. At first, Liam and Aidan are reluctant to take the job. But with civil unrest growing in Tunis as the populace unseat the liberal president and religious fundamentalists apparently are going to take over, they finally take the opportunity to get away from the city for a while for some kind of working holiday in the Tunisian countryside. But soon they find themselves again in the thick of things as Farid’s family comes into play. Farid’s brother Omar, the leader of an opposition party, is exiled in Marseilles. When Omar’s wife is arrested, their thirteen-year-old daughter Leila is left in Farid’s care. Aidan is charged with taking her to Marseilles while Liam stays behind to deal with the saboteur.
Now suddenly on his own, Aidan copes with his task brilliantly, even dealing with an attempt on Leila’s and her father’s lives. The achievement greatly increases his self-confidence and also, makes Liam see him in an improved light. Even though Liam eventually has to rescue Aidan, along with both Omar and Farid, their relationship has changed and grown by the end, toward a better balance of powers and more equality.
Reading this book, I learned a lot about growing olives and making olive oil, somewhat more than I ever cared to know. But I also got to be transported to Tunisia, into a strange and fascinating foreign culture that was so well-drawn I felt like I could taste it. I also got to meet some very interesting people, namely Liam’s and Aidan’s embassy relation, Liam’s campy Tunisian ex-fling, a chain-smoking French James Bond and a surly female teenage hatemonger-in-making who still wasn’t beyond being enlightened by her father’s tolerant common sense and Aidan’s charms. But the best of all were the main characters, vivid and three-dimensional with flaws and depths and their ability to grow. They grew on me, made me care for them and cheer them on to work through their issues and to catch the bad guys, and now I think I’m going to read the other books in the series too, as I really want to know more about them.
Please note: as of today, the loose-id site was still inaccessible when I tried, which is why the buy link I gave above will take you to amazon.com if you click it. As far as I know, Olives For The Stranger is available there.