Title: Hostile Ground by L.A. Witt & Aleksandr Voinov
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, M/M, Erotic, Romance, Mystery/Suspense
Length: 362 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher
Enemy territory is a dangerous place to fall in love.
After the deaths of three undercover cops investigating a drug ring in a seedy strip club in Seattle, Detective Mahir Hussain has been sent to finish the job. He joins the club’s security team in the hopes of finding enough evidence to bust the operation before the men in charge find a reason to put him in a shallow grave.
To protect the strippers, only gay men can work the club. Ridley, the cold and intimidating head of security, knows exactly how to test potential new hires—including Mahir. From the minute they meet, Mahir and Ridley engage in a dangerous dance of sex and mind games. Mahir needs to find his evidence before Ridley figures out he’s a cop—and before they both grow too close to betray one another.
As the game goes on, Mahir burrows deeper into the operation, where he learns there’s much more happening than meets the eye . . . and why every cop who made it this far has been silenced with a bullet.
L.A. Witt and Aleksandr Voinov’s latest collaboration, Hostile Ground is an extremely fast-paced and engaging mystery. There is also an incredibly sexy but understated romantic element as lead protagonists Mahir Hussain and Ridley give in to their smokin’ hot desire.
With the deaths of three cops weighing heavily, Mahir knows there is no room for error when he accepts his first undercover assignment working security in a local strip club. But first, he has to convince Ridley, the unflappable, daunting head of security, that he is not a cop and that he has no interest in the female strippers. Proving he is gay is easy since the air between them is positively sizzling due to their mutual attraction. But convincing Ridley that he has no connection to law enforcement is fraught with danger and Mahir is forced to take drastic measures to dispel Ridley’s suspicions.
Hostile Ground is written from Mahir’s perspective and he is a wonderfully complex protagonist. He is an ethnically diverse character with strong faith, close family ties and an impeccable work ethic. Due to his Arab heritage and Muslim faith, Mahir faces bigotry, slurs and epitaphs in both his personal and professional lives but he can usually diffuse racially charged situations before they can escalate. Mahir is conflicted by his attraction to Ridley and he is also confused by some of the inconsistencies in his behavior. Although Mahir tries to keep his undercover and real life identities separate, the two areas overlap when his nephew, Kinza, seeks him out following a major disagreement with his father.
Ridley is another great character but it is difficult to get inside his head since everything we learn about him is filtered through Mahir’s point of view. There is never any doubt that Ridley is tough, dangerous and extremely focused on his job. But the fleeting glimpses of tenderness and something that resembles jealousy are at odds with his ruthlessness. These contrasting facets of his personality leave Mahir wondering if Ridley the cold-blooded psychopath he appears to be.
While there are quite a few secondary characters, the two that figure most prominently in the storyline are Mahir’s nephew Kinza and crime lord Gene Lombardi. Lombardi is oddly charismatic and he is an astute businessman. But he is a thoroughly despicable and utterly merciless criminal and Mahir is horrified once he uncovers the full truth about his criminal activities.
Kinza is a great addition to the novel and his storyline is heartbreaking. A typical teenager in most ways, he turns to Mahir for support and while on one level, he understands the reasons why his uncle is gone much of the time his immaturity leads him to resent Mahir’s continued absence. All of this spills over into an act of rebellion that could have deadly consequences.
The mystery aspect of the plot is engrossing and well-executed. Myriad twists and turns take the story in very unexpected directions. Mahir sometimes makes rookie mistakes that serve to remind readers this is first undercover operation and his zeal to uncover the truth leads to reckless decisions. Not knowing exactly what Ridley is thinking or feeling adds to the mystery surrounding his character. This also makes it easy to understand how difficult it for Mahir as he struggles to sort out his confusion over his attraction to a man that, to all appearances, is a brutal killer and hardened criminal.
The sex scenes between Mahir and Ridley are incredibly intense and highly erotic. They are locked in a powerful battle for control and their encounters are raw and gritty with a hint of savagery. There is plenty of hot man on man action that not only advances the storyline but reveals helpful insight into their personalities.
L.A. Witt and Aleksandr Voinov’s Hostile Ground is an intriguing and suspenseful mystery. The overall plot is realistic and well-executed. The characters are superbly developed and with a few notable exceptions, they are sympathetic and likable. While it is not traditional romance, there is no mistaking Mahir and Ridley’s emotions run deep. All in all, a splendid novel that I highly recommend to old and new fans of the genre.