Broken Protocol is the second book in A.R. Barley’s Smoke and Bullets series. It’s a standalone and can easily be read by itself; it contains no spoilers for the first book and reading the first doesn’t really enhance the second.
Dante Green is a detective who’s been running from his foster brother most of his life. Luke Parsons is his lifelong love and obsession, but a promise to their father to never hurt Luke has made Dante feel like a monster for having feelings for the younger man.
A.R. Barley made me see why people like pseudo-cest stories. Dante is jampacked with conflicting emotions, all of them attractive: He feels protective and fraternal toward Luke; he lusts him and loves him and craves him and never ever wants to hurt him. Usually people love each other in one particular way—e.g. as a mother to a child, as a friend to a friend, as a spouse to a spouse. Dante feels both eros and philia for Luke, and it enhances the entire relationship. It's a whole lot of love in one man.
The fact that he has to hide his feelings—and that he so successfully convinces Luke of his indifference—results in a delicious slow burn. I loved the dramatic irony and tension of their dual POVs, as they both yearn for each other in secret.
This relationship is more intense and layered than the relationship in book one (although I recommend On Duty as a sweeter read; I really enjoyed it). One finicky thing I didn’t care for was how shallowly the setting of New York City is painted. I think because I’m a former New Yorker I took it as a kind of personal insult.
It didn’t bother me much in book one, but the string of crimes that unite Dante and Luke together on a rogue investigation hinged on certain impossible facts: The crimes take place in Manhattan alleys. Manhattan has almost no alleys. The targeted victims are always men who have just left gay clubs. Manhattan’s gay clubs have been strategically shut down over the years. There’s not a plethora of them, as is stated in the book. Centering a book around gay spaces while not mentioning how those spaces have struggled to exist feels disingenuous.
Also, this book’s cover is a mess and doesn’t do service to the words inside.
The cover and setting aside, Broken Protocol has two very attractive leads that take the reader on a simmering, slow burn ride. I highly recommend it.