This was a very difficult review to write. I kept wanting to blame someone for this disaster, and while one would expect that the author is the natural recipient, somehow I can’t help but spread the guilt around. In fact, I kind of feel sorry for the author. I mean, I assume that there was some beta reading somewhere along the line, and it had to be read to be accepted by the publisher, and then it must have gone through edits and proofreading. Didn’t anyone stop and say, “Wait a minute”? Didn’t anyone care enough to sit down with the author and say, “You have a good idea here, but your follow-through is a mite… lacking”?
The germ of the idea is a good one: Mafioso falls in love with the FBI agent who’s setting him up, and vice versa. There’s an enormous scope for an edgy, dark, passionate story with a peek into the grimy criminal underworld.
This story ain’t it.
Instead, what we get is a fairy tale, and not one particularly well handled. The characters are flat and one-dimensional. Chris, the FBI agent, was raised in an orphanage by a saintly priest. He is the Good Guy, with issues of abandonment. We meet Jarod, the “godfather” of the title, at his mother’s funeral, where his abusive father socks him around for crying and being less than manly. He is… also the Good Guy.
Fast forward a number of years, and Jarod Greene, the Godfather of Los Angeles, is in an alley beating up a thug called Carlos (one of the few ethnic names in this story. I mean, come on. This is Los Angeles. A story set in Los Angeles without any significant Asian or African-American characters? And only one important Latino character, Jarod’s right hand man, Mike. But this, dear reader, is not the last of the disbelief-suspending we are asked to do). A drunk man staggers out the back door, and instead of offing a potential witness, Jarod… screws him through the wall. It turns out to be Chris, whom Jarod quickly gets obsessive about. He breaks up with his current boyfriend, the nephew of another crime lord, and sets Chris up in his stead. This falls in with Chris’s plan, because, of course, he’s not just an intern—that’s his cover. He’s a Special Agent.
Jarod is variously described as “the Godfather of Los Angeles” and the “underground boss who ruled over California,” and people are said to be afraid of him, but he never actually does anything bad. His organization doesn’t even sell drugs. I’m not quite sure what it does, exactly, except run a couple of nightclubs and have meetings with rival gangs (the Smith clan of Nevada, or the Giordano gang. Seriously. The gangsters are either WASPs or stereotypes). The incident with Carlos at the beginning is supposed to show how bad he is, but my first reaction was “Really? The Godfather of Los Angeles does his own dirty work?” And he doesn’t do much, just roughs him up a bit before he sees Chris and decides—with that short attention span, how did he ever get to be Godfather?—that Chris was much more interesting. (“You betrayed me, Carlos! You’re going to suff… oooh, shiny!!”)
The biggest problem I had with this book is that there are no real consequences for anything. The ex-boyfriend doesn’t set his uncle’s goons on them, the Mafia—notoriously homophobic—doesn’t seem to mind an openly gay man at the head of one of its organizations, and people don’t get killed. When Chris (SPOILER ALERT) quits the FBI because he’s fallen in love with Jarod, he gets a handshake and a “good luck” instead of getting his ass thrown in jail for compromising a federal criminal case.
But the thing that pisses me off the most is the fact that this book could have been good. Ryan is not a bad writer; she “tells” a little too much, and her characters need more development, but her writing has potential. Her pacing is good, her descriptions vivid. With a little research, a little effort, a little help, it could have been an entertaining story. But instead, we have a sad little mess. And it makes me sad, and mad, and I want someone to blame, damn it.
Buy it from Dreamspinner Press, here.