Another first class read by a first class writer.
- Review by Kazza K
Whilst I don’t love politicians, I do love politics, local and global, and all the rigmarole that accompanies it. I like a good opponent debate, polls, forecasts, stats, strategies and so on and so forth. Mix that in here with an enigmatic, sexy campaign manager and charismatic, caring political aspirant and, for me, this book was gold.
Where There's Smoke is about the Californian Governor's race between a young, up and coming Democratic candidate, from an acting family, with a political uncle, and the current GOP elect.
Jesse Cameron is, basically, a B-grade actor with a law degree from a wealthy, high profile family. He is married to Simone, who is a 2 x Oscar winning actress. We meet them as they are having photos and then an interview, at the behest of his uncle, Roger, for the start of Jesse's political run. Roger wants to spin them as the perfect, happily married couple - they're good looking, wealthy and are living the 'American Dream' – all terrific political material on the surface, but not so true underneath. I really liked Jesse, but he was probably never going to be the political animal that his uncle and others wanted him to be, himself included, because he has a conscience, his family is dysfunctional, but mostly because he's gay.
Anthony Hunter is brought in, by Roger, as the campaign manager for Jesse. Anthony is a seasoned professional and has successfully spearheaded previous campaigns for Roger. Anthony is cynical/pessimistic - politics will do that to you - smokes like a chimney,and is quick at spin-doctoring. Underneath his pessimistic viewpoint beats the heart of an ethical man. I liked Anthony a lot. Whether in reality he could afford to be as ethical, well, I don't know, but it's fiction and it suits him. Anthony just also happens to be gay. He makes it a policy to not sleep with the employer (politicians) but in Jesse's case he feels strong desire, whilst trying not to. I'll put it on record that Anthony is one sexy top and his stolen encounters with Jesse are incredibly hot.
Jesse and Anthony do fall hard for each other, but there is a problem. Jesse is well and truly in the closet, he has to be, he's married and political parties don't like (openly) gay men (or married gay men). Anthony, while not as high profile as Jesse, is very careful, he's employed by the politicians, and is only a couple of steps further to the front of the closet Jesse is in. So, it makes for an interesting story - angsty, sexually tumultuous, edgy and complicated.
The secondary characters are all interesting and well developed. Ranya, Jesse’s PA, is as good a character as you will get in any book; let alone M/M where women are usually caricatures of actual woman. She's a strong, funny, loyal, well intentioned individual, who cares for Jesse and is open and honest with all her words, feelings and assistance.
Simone, Jesse's wife, is quite interesting, a rollercoaster of emotions. It would be easy to jump up and down and say she was slighted. Yet she wasn't, she knows Jesse is gay and encourages him to take up with Anthony, but still I felt for her. Jesse tried hard to make up for his inabililty to be her husband, his worry about her health, his guilt at being gay. Yes, he allowed his ucle to manipulate his marriage for the campaign, but Jesse had no premeditation, he was politically naieve. They both knew where their marriage stood and she constantly reaffirmed her willingness to proceed with the campaign. To me Simone was like a metaphor for Jesse's campaign in general – something/someone he cared about, wanted to do right by, but he couldn’t be himself, and that never ends well. Not because he wasn't well intentioned, but because of reality.
Not many openly gay politicians around, most come out later on, if at all. The fault lies with the system and people's closed minded attitudes to homosexuality. Also, even though there was a desire to be progressive, Simone struggled to get 100% behind him. Saying everything is "OK", or you really do support someone/something is not the same as it actually being "OK" in reality - this is true of Simone/the party/voters.
Jesse's uncle, Roger, was the consummate politician, no moral compass, use anything and anyone to get elected. In other words the end always justifies the means. I didn’t like him but his character was spot-on. Roger was a political animal and he wasn’t apologetic about it.
This book is so well written - the language, the flow, the storyline - which makes it a joy to read. It's an absolute page turner and all the characters are very much real and three-dimensional. Every chapter was deliberately assigned to one MC, to progress the story from their persepctive, and their voices are uniquely character specific - Jesse and Anthony could not be confused, even if you somehow couldn't read whose chapter it was. I love good characterization, I always want it and make no excuses for that fact. I got it in spades here. The last book I read of L A Witt's, The Closer You Get, I also enjoyed, but I lamented the lack of the 2nd MC’s POV. Here I got just what I wanted and it was fabulous.
I highly recommend Where There's Smoke. I'm definitely buying more of L A Witt's books based on the two I've read.