Book Review of Zero at the Bone, by Jane Seville

Zero at the Bone

I borrowed a copy of Zero at the Bone, Jane Seville. (Thanks, M.)

Description from Goodreads:
After witnessing a mob hit, surgeon Jack Francisco is put into protective custody to keep him safe until he can testify. A hitman known only as D is blackmailed into killing Jack, but when he tracks him down, his weary conscience won’t allow him to murder an innocent man. Finding in each other an unlikely ally, Jack and D are soon on the run from shadowy enemies. 

Forced to work together to survive, the two men forge a bond that ripens into unexpected passion. Jack sees the wounded soul beneath D’s cold, detached exterior, and D finds in Jack the person who can help him reclaim the man he once was. As the day of Jack’s testimony approaches, he and D find themselves not only fighting for their lives… but also fighting for their future. A future together.

I’ll admit I expected a lot from this book. People seem to love it. There are tons of raving reviews out there. Plus, well, it claims it name from a poem by Emily Dickinson, for crypes sake. I mean, that’s got to count for something, right?

And I’ll also say up front that I didn’t necessarily dislike it. This is one of those books that I think is designed to make women go weak at the knees; watching a big, tough, emotionally closeted man break down for that one special person and rejoin the human race. This is a theme that really seems to work for a lot of us, my self included. So, it did resonate with me. Don’t think otherwise.

I even liked the characters. D was one of those growly, silent types that pushes all my buttons and Jack seemed to be a smart, capable man who I also liked well enough, even if he did become progressively more twink-like as the book progressed, making his character feel a little inconsistent. (Another reviewer likened him to a teenage girl, and while I think this is an exaggeration, there is definitely a degeneration of his adult maleness as the book moves along. The book starts to feel very het-like by the end.)

However, despite being attracted to the basic type of mm romance this is and actually liking the characters themselves, the book wasn’t a huge success for me. The main reason is that it felt…it seemed…hm, well let me just compare two rivers for you as an illustration.

On a normal, day a river might flow tight and contained within its banks. It’s easy to walk up to the edge and say ‘this is where the river starts, that over there is where it ends.’ Past which, might be forest or fields, whatever. And within those craggy, debris strewn parameters, the water flows at its natural rate, accommodating whatever boulders or fallen limbs might be under the surface. Fine.

But after a heavy rain, that same river will flow over its banks, spread out into wide marshy swaths of ill-defined wetland. It’s hard to know when your foot’s going to leave dry soil and become mired in mud. There is no obvious edge, no obvious ‘here it starts, there it ends’ and everything beyond what you think might be the borders is absorbed into it.

This book is post-flood for me. Its plot seemed to spread and spread and spread. It’s not that I didn’t like the plot, I just kept waiting for the end, only to be given more. Only to see that bank surpassed and spread to the next copse of literary trees.

What I’m trying to say is that the book was long. I mean really, really long. The internet says that the paperback is only 295 pages, but I have a hard time believing it. It just went on for bloody ever. I thought it might never end, what’s more it felt like it wound down about a dozen times, only then to pick up again with yet another swell of action. I like action and all, but it started feeling like 15 epilogues instead of a smooth continuation of the story.

Even though there seems to be a lot of love for this book, there also seem to be a lot of readers that were annoyed (some enraged even) by D’s speech pattern. It didn’t bother me. Maybe ’cause I grew up in the South, where it wasn’t that unusual. What did bother me was that as the book went along, the originally very proper doctor started picking up D’s verbal habits, making them harder and harder to tell apart.

I was almost driven to distraction by all the internal dialoguing though. And oddly it is dialogue. Each character seems to have an alter-ego they can converse with. It was nice to know their private thoughts, sure, but there was so much of it that it really broke up the story. Plus, we were often then told that all these lengthy internal feelings were communicated in a look. Really, in a look?

I did appreciate that D and Jack didn’t have a fairytale happy ending. It was happy, but they were having to realistically learn to live together, instead of a seamless transition into perfecthood. I also like that there was a little flex in their bedroom play. The two have a lot of sex. It would be unimaginably boring if they never changed things up a bit. (Though I won’t credit it with much realism…or even much sexiness.) I loved X and I’d be interested in reading more about D’s task force, if the story could stay focused on it.

So, there are things I liked, not least of which was the actual writing. And as a story, I have few complaints about it. As a book however, as a book that doesn’t seem to know its own limits and reasonable constraints I was well ready for the silly thing to end.

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