One piece of Neil Gaiman’s advice for writers was not only to read, but to read ‘outside your comfort zone’. So I picked up Captive Hearts.
My reluctance wasn’t due to its belonging to the MM gay romance genre; it’s the fact that it’s a romance and most romance stories – in films or books – leave me cold. So often the spark that ignites the story is restricted to the physical: “It’s Clark Gable/Omar Sharif/Brad Pitt and Marilyn Monroe/Julie Christie/Julia Roberts! They look so gorgeous they must be in love!” Well, maybe. If you find any of the above-mentioned six people sexy, then you’ll probably enjoy watching them. If not, you’re left looking for some aspect of character to hang onto, to retain your interest. And if the protagonists are only brought together by their looks, then it’s thumb-twiddling time for me.
I’m getting a long way away from Captive Hearts, which is a romance, and which does begin with physical attraction. Luckily for me, all that’s wrapped up in a thriller plot featuring gangsters and undercover cops, and that held my attention. BUT… somewhere around the halfway point, our hero gets the young man he’s fallen in love with to describe why he’s allowed himself to become a kept man. It’s not a long passage, no more than a few pages, but the pain and loneliness and love for an elderly relative the boy describes are genuinely haunting. They leap off the page. And when they do, the love story comes to life. There’s an emotional stake, not just a physical one. And it gives the story a real, memorable weight.