Valley of the Dead
Title : Valley of the Dead
Author : JoAnne Soper-Cook
Publisher : Dreamspinner Press (BUY HERE)
Genre : M/M, Historical
Length : 226 pages (e-book)
Published : August 5, 2013
Rating : ★★★1/2
The Second World War rages: it touches Newfoundland in unprecedented ways, throwing spies and patriots together inside expatriate Jack Stolyes’s Heartache Café and forcing uncomplementary bedfellows into alliances. It’s all in a day’s work for Jack, whose introduction to the Island included corrupt cops, a murder on the doorstep of his restaurant, and more than one attempt on his life.
When exotic and alluring Egyptian diplomat Samuel Halim enters Jack’s small corner of the world, Jack’s life will change forever. Then, on his voyage home, Sam disappears along with the code key to decipher a Nazi radio command that will set Rommel’s troops in motion.
Jack finds himself with nothing to go on except a fragmented late-night phone call from Sam and a handful of disparate clues. In the teeming heat of Cairo—a city rife with romance, secrets, sex, and danger, where no one is who he seems and violent death waits around every shadowed corner—it’s up to Jack to find the new love of his life and deliver the code that will change the course of history.
American Jack Stoyles thought life was interesting enough, coping as a gay man in war torn, espionage riddled Newfoundland in 1942. That is, until the sexy, mysterious Egyptian police detective Sam Halim walked through the door of Jack’s aptly named Heartache Café.
The author’s writing style flows throughout this story…it’s descriptive, vibrant, and the vernacular rings true to the time period without the characters coming off sounding like bad caricatures of it. I loved reading about Newfoundland, Cairo and the Nile region. The authenticity of the espionage seemed spot on and intriguing.
The story is told from Jack’s pov, and begins when Jack gets a phone call from Cairo – the caller is Sam saying he is confused, he doesn’t even remember how he came to be back in Cairo. Jack is apparently besotted with Sam even though they barely know each other. There are flashbacks throughout the story, where we find out about Jack’s past, how he ended up in Newfoundland, how he met Sam, and what had occurred during their brief time together. The two had kissed but never become more physical. I found myself taking to Jack instantly, and wanted to see him reunited with Sam, and for him to figure out what in the world was going on. What in the world indeed!
Jack’s lifelong friend and old military buddy, Frankie, arranges for Jack to fly on military transport to Cairo to look into the mysterious happenings with Sam. Sam had given Jack a gold cartouche while in Newfoundland, and Jack had also been handed off a diorite bowl that was supposed to be rightfully returned to Egypt. Both items had somehow ended up in a museum in Newfoundland. As soon as Jack lands in Cairo, people – including Sam’s wife – are waiting for him and the artifacts. These people included both friend and foe, and it was up to Jack to try to figure out who was who!
The mysteries and twists and turns that assailed Jack piled up so fast my head was spinning. I found myself bogged down with them. There were a great many players introduced at a fast pace. Their ties to each other were murky. I typically highly enjoy espionage, spy vs. spy type stories, and I love a good subplot …but… I had to take a break from reading about 1/3 of the way in as I was getting frustrated by all of the perilous situations that Jack was getting into, and then escaping from unscathed while those around him were taken down.
I was very taken by the interesting depiction of being a gay man in that era. Jack was blue papered out of the military. i.e. – he was bounced out and made to undergo shock therapy in an attempt to “de-gay” him. Oh, I shudder knowing that his type of thing really went on and was considered perfectly reasonable at the time.
(Recent sweeping change for good in our U.S. military is especially wonderful to hear about when reading about practices such as this). Hence Jack ended up in Newfoundland, far from his native Philadelphia. Even though Jack and Sam knew they had strong feelings for each other, it definitely came across that the concept of a committed relationship between gay men was not socially acceptable, nor even met with much hopefulness by the men involved. Jack was un-fazed at knowing that Sam had a wife and children in Cairo and Sam did not seem at all bitter that marrying and having a family was expected of him. He had love and respect for his wife, and adored his children. It turned out his wife even knew and accepted that Sam had paramours. Jack also had minimal qualms about having sex with another man he was attracted to, even in the midst of the mystery of finding Sam. I found myself musing over whether this was merely a casual hook up for Jack, as it could be for any character in any time period (two people attracted to each other and scratching an itch? An affirmation of being alive when surrounded by death? Mutual comfort giving during a dire situation? ) Or, was it more a sign of the times? Maybe Jack just figured a guy like him should “get it where he could find it”? Interesting.
Early on it becomes clear that Sam is involved in much more than detective work (he is quite involved in keeping war time codes out of German hands), and this is why locating him and figuring out who he can trust take Jack so long. Jack encounters forces that would like to kill him, and others that would like to recruit him into being a war time secret agent for the Allies alongside Sam.. The story did level out after the initial onslaught of twists and turns, shady characters, and near death experiences for Jack. Both Sam and Jack suffer shock and loss as they travel from Cairo, to the desert, and back to Newfoundland, unraveling the intrigue and mystery surrounding the codes and who they can trust with them. I was really kept guessing and was quite surprised by some of the reveals.
When Jack and Sam finally did get the opportunity to be together body and soul – to make love – it was an extremely sensual and moving experience for them, and for this reader. While I felt their connection was portrayed in a very genuine fashion, I would also like to have seen their romance evolving more on page. I felt as if I never really got to know Sam.
Not sure if this is planned to be a series, but I would definitely give a sequel a go. I would enjoy getting to know Sam better as he and Jack embark on future forays into the WW II underworld.
Rated 3.5 stars by Dianne