James Buchanan knows men in uniform. From smoke jumpers to beat cops, the characters have that touch of authenticity that few writers working in erotica can match. Added to that is the ability to portray unromanticized border towns and the grittier side of Los Angeles County. The combination brings to life a unique world.
Ready To Serve: Arresting Gay Erotica contains six short stories. “Pat Down,” “Speed Trap,” “Risk,” “Burn Zone,” “Coyote Crossing,” and “Fairground.” As I’ve read James’ work before, I was a little disappointed in “Pat Down” as a simple, but hot, erotic piece. It must be an earlier work. “Speed Trap,” however, was more like it. With sly humor, the owner of a highway-side bait shop taunts the local law. The lone lawman may think he’s been discreet, but in a town where everyone knows everyone’s business, and the dating pool for gay men is small, secrets have a way of getting out.
“Risk” is somewhat fascinating as the characters are from a team that specializes in cleaning crime scenes or places where people have died alone and forgotten, their bodies sometimes lying undisturbed for weeks. That doesn’t lend itself to hot sex, and the story was a bit muddy, but if angst-filled love touches you, then you’re probably a better audience for this one than I was.
Speaking of angst, “Burn Zone” features a fire captain who lost several men in a hot spot during one of Southern California’s Santa Ana fueled fire seasons. He’s gone to a fire lookout to spare his lovers his mood, but they won’t let him hide. While he’s convinced that he’s the third wheel in their relationship, they finally convince him that their relationship is a triad that can’t exist without him. I think these characters appear in another novella. I’m sure James will send me a note clarifying that. If so, I’d like to read it. These characters deserve further exploration.
In “Coyote Crossing,” Buchanan’s storytelling hits its stride. A border patrol agent catches the younger brother of his high school best friend working as a coyote who helps bring illegal immigrants over the border. While he tries to turn the younger brother’s life around, he finds out that all is not as it seems. The setting is pitch perfect, as is the attraction between the men.
The final story is “Fairground.” It has some redundant parts, and the characters have overly long conversations, which makes me believe Buchanan was trying to hit a minimum word count on the original publishing. That’s too bad as it detracts from the well-written sex scenes. I truly wish the current editor would have ruthlessly honed this down to a lean, hot tale.This collection is a good introduction to James Buchanan’s work. If you like what you see, I suggest you pick up The Good Thief, Hard Fall, or Inland Empire, to name a few outstanding novels. I can’t think of many other writers who come as close to portraying the American Southwest and law enforcement with this much accuracy, while also depicting sympathetically the conflicts gay men in those professions face.
Picture the scene: two men with hard bodies, both rodeo riders, order the same brand of Mexican beer in a "dingy little dive" in the border town of El Paso, Texas. They notice each other. They both like what they see. They strike up a conversation.
The younger guy, Manuel, explains that he will be competing in "el floreo de reata" in the "Charreada," the Mexican rodeo. The white guy, the gringo, has no clear idea what the "reata" is. He throws down his own definition of manhood: "Real cowboys ride bulls."
Manuel is up to the challenge, besides being bilingual. In "a low, sensual purr," he replies: "Un charro es un vaquero dos veces." Jess doesn't get it, so Manuel translates: "A Mexican cowboy is twice the cowboy." Hot damn.
This book, a set of two romance novellas (Twice the Cowboy, first published on-line in 2006, and its sequel, Twice the Ride) is drenched in heat, dust, drama, action, rodeo lore and colorful sayings in Spanish. Even the rugged terrain just south of the Mexican border is thoroughly described. Forget generic terms like "desert" and "cactus." This landscape contains "crumbling sandstone," "black basalt," "thirsty cottonwood trees," "scrub mesquite," creosote" and "prickly pear."
Male-on-male erotic e-romances seem to be wildly popular these days, and they are written at various levels of skill and realism. Some are clearly fantasies, set in some alternative universe (or in some Japanese-flavored genre) where love between men has always been considered more honorable than any interaction involving women, and where men's bodies and personalities are androgynous, emotional and expressive.
This book, in contrast, drops the reader into the macho reality of the rodeo circuit, in which outfits are flamboyant but not flaming, and in which physical grace coexists with physical danger, not only from bulls and broncos. These cowboys live in particular towns, have past histories and jobs. Their bodies are functionally male. One of them has a family which is important to him. The magic of this book is not its ability to whisk the reader away from gritty reality, but to show how an unconventional relationship can survive in it.
These guys (and the author) clearly love the thrill of the rodeo, which serves as a metaphor for the thrill of "riding" a hot guy. Here is Manuel showing off for Jess in "el floreo de reata:"
"Ramrod straight in the saddle, Manuel controlled his mount with his knees; reins dangled unnoticed in his left hand. His right hand held the coils of a rat-tail rope. The beast tossed its head, knowing how beautiful they were together. Mexican rodeo counted style above all else.
"Manuel tossed his lariat into the air. It spun, ribbon like, over his head. Flicks of his wrist and the rope undulated around his body. Flowing like water, the lasso was the only thing that moved. Even his horse was a statue. Rawhide arabesques, corollas and calyxes danced about him to the rhythm of the mariachis."
Jess is suitably impressed, but then sympathy clinches the deal. After Manuel's leg has been scraped against a wall during a wild bronco-busting ride, Jess offers to tend to the injured leg in private. To Jess' delight, Manuel is willing and eager to take part in some private, horizontal action.
Scenarios involving illness or injury on one side and devoted caretaking on the other are a staple in romances, and they usually move the relationship to a more intimate level. James Buchanan uses this traditional formula more than once. (Eventually, Manuel is able to offer his healing love to Jess as needed.) The rodeo setting makes these events so convincing that the formula is hardly noticeable. Rodeo riders who never suffer a rope burn or a wrenched muscle would seem unbelievable.
The two men are shown to have distinct personalities and vastly different backgrounds, yet their relationship develops as a flexibly equal union. The author teases the reader with questions about who is really "on top" when a man "rides" (fucks) a man who craves his hard meat. Is "Chingar" ever a command? (Look it up.) Manuel is a kind of "horse whisperer" who has a gift for controlling horses, but Jesse has had more life experience and more varied job skills.
Occasionally, the third-person viewpoint suggests the consciousness of one of the characters, especially when Jess' silent but verbal response to Manuel (Hell, yeah) is inserted in italics into a sex scene. From the opening chapter, the reader is hoping that these two guys will continue to appreciate and support each other.
Of course, there are complications. Manuel's second-most important relationship is with his horse, Mango, and therefore anyone who wants to punish Manuel or simply mess up his life will naturally want to take the horse out from under him. The triangle of cowboy/cowboy/horse becomes a comfortable quadrangle when Manuel enables Jesse to meet and take ownership of the horse who is meant to be his. Even the two horses enjoy each other's company.
There is a surprising amount of sex (between human males) in this book, considering that there is also plenty of plot, lots of dialogue in two languages, and detailed descriptions of characters and settings. The reader is even told how much top-of-the-line saddles are worth ($5,000 U.S.!). For anyone with an interest in rodeos, horses, Mexican or Tex-Mex culture or (of course) sweaty sex between men, this book is manna from heaven. For readers (such as this reviewer) who simply enjoy solid world-building, plot arcs and characters, this book looks like the real thing. When a writer loves his (or her) subject, it shows. This ride won't disappoint anyone who feels drawn to the title or the cover image of a half-nekkid man in a cowboy hat whose well-filled white briefs light up the darkness.