Title: Cancel Christmas
Author: Cameron Lawton
Publisher: MLR Press
Cover Art: Deana C. Jamroz
Amazon Link: Cancel Christmas
Genre: contemporary m/m, military, holiday
Length: Novella (40 k words)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 rating stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: Except for its time frame, this isn’t much of a holiday read–it’s a well-executed murder mystery and a beautiful love story in one.
The Blurb: The Military Police boys are back and this time it’s murder.
A fast-paced murder mystery featuring the two Military Police investigators from “Yours To Command”. Plans for the holidays are scrapped when a body is found on an Army base in Germany. Still firmly in the closet at work, they stay in a hotel and indulge in some midnight room-hopping but will Rory be able to cope with his assistant’s newly discovered dominant streak? Who killed the translator and why in such a grisly way? Is there a connection to a recent suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan? Killing doesn’t stop just because it’s Christmas, especially in the British Army.
This book is the second installment in this author’s “Yours to Command” series; the first is a short story of the same title about how Rory and Jack got together in the first place. However, “Cancel Christmas” can very well be read as a standalone, as the lover’s backstory is referred to often enough.
After working together for three years, Joachim “Jack” Jones and Rory Sumner eventually gave in to their mutual attraction three months previously. In contrast to official statements, the British Army apparently is not the place to be openly gay–and a relationship between an officer like Rory and a non-com like Jack would be impossible even if they weren’t both men; they can’t even be friends because of their difference in rank. This is why, even though they’re practically still in their honeymoon phase, they need to be super-careful about keeping their professional and private lives separate. Which they manage surprisingly well since they’re both good at compartmentalization. But it’s not always easy, not lastly because their relationship is still so new and there’s a lot they don’t yet know about each other. Particularly Jack, who’d been a virgin prior to getting together with Rory, has got a lot still left to learn, not only about his lover, but also about himself.
A part of their mandatory secrecy is going on separate leave over the holidays; Jack is off duty for Christmas while Rory chose New Year. However, just when Jack is about to leave, they’re called to a British Army base by Mönchengladbach, Germany, to investigate a murder. Karim Begum, a translator, just came back from Afghanistan with his squad after they lost their commanding officer there. Begum was of Pakistani origin, he was Muslim and the method of the murder seems to indicate that he was gay. (note: The murder doesn’t happen onpage, but the descriptions of the crime scene are quite graphic and the murder in and of itself is really, really ugly. Not for the faint of heart.)
Despite the fact that everything points toward a hate crime, Rory and Jack can’t be fooled to buy into the obvious sight unseen. Over the course of their investigations, and despite the fact that it’s Christmastime, they come up with evidence that gradually alters the case, suggesting a different motive–one that is at once far more solid and far more disturbing.
This book was a gripping murder mystery and a beautiful romance all rolled into one. The balance between these two elements was admirably well done. I particularly liked the characterizations and the fact that Rory and Jack complement each other so well, both professionally as well as privately. These are two deeply closeted men, so secretive about their relationship that they address each other as “sir” and “Sergeant” even if they’re alone, that they don’t even hint at being anything more than colleagues except behind the privacy of a closed door. And with no hint, I mean no hint. No word, no touch, no smile, no telephone call; they barely exchange the most cryptic of text messages. However, this isn’t an angsty read, both main characters accept having to keep their relationship a secret as a fact of life and make the best of it.
In regard of what and who they are their behavior appeared very realistic to me, in a been-there-done-that kind of way. As far as I’m concerned, this author knows what he’s talking about.
I also liked very much how they still find ways to let each other know how they felt. To lend each other moral support when facts of the case hit too deep. The love between Jack and Rory was as palpable as their inner conflict and their outward professionalism.
This was a well-written, fast-paced and compelling read that I can warmly recommend, not only as a holiday read.
Just ignore the cover .