Eleventh Hour is an historical m/m romance featuring agents for the British Secret Intelligence Service set between World War 1 and 2. The premise sounded intriguing and this book should have been a slam dunk for me – but wasn’t. Some things about it are great (refer to the first sentence of this review). Unfortunately, though I thought it had a lot of potential, it was just boring.
It’s 1920’s London and the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) is on the trail of Andrija, a terrorist and anarchist at large in London. The SIS has lost his trail but identified associates of his terrorist organization in town. Unable to locate Andrija and/or determine what he might be plotting, they summon their best field agent to track him down. Briers Allerdale is partnered up with a less experienced agent, Miles Seward (who speaks multiple languages – including Serbian, Andrija’s native tongue), to find Andrija and stop any attack before it occurs. SIS has Andrija’s paramour, Josephine, already under surveillance (she’s working as a nanny). They hope that under closer scrutiny, she’ll lead them to the terrorist.
If all that sounds like a fairly straightforward, classic spy story – prepare yourself for the twist: Allerdale and Seward are to pose as a newly married couple and move into an apartment adjacent to Josephine’s home. Allerdale, the husband, goes to work each day – tracking down leads and known associates of Andrija; his wife – Seward, dressed as his alter ego Millie, observes Josephine’s comings and goings from the window of their apartment. Oh – and both men are also closeted homosexuals, secretly attracted to their “spouse.”
It all sounds fascinating doesn’t it? Well, I thought so too. Unfortunately, Ms. Gregory spends an inordinate amount of time alternating between the internal thoughts and PoV of both men – and neither one is all that interesting. When they’re forced into a passionate embrace to maintain their cover, neither one has to fake the intensity of their response. The scene is exciting and titillating – Ms. Gregory does an excellent job describing Allerdale’s impressions as he touches and fondles Millie. Based on this brief liaison, I had high hopes for steamy love scenes. To my dismay, when they finally confess their mutual attraction and become intimate, the sex is perfunctory, brief and, honestly? Not sexy.
After the letdown of the sex scenes, I hoped the hunt for Andrija – described as a cold blooded and dangerous killer – would be slightly more thrilling and suspenseful; that too proved to be less than thrilling, and somewhat predictable. Allerdale, the supposedly more experienced agent of the pair, spends most of his time worrying about Seward (who he seems to think is inept), and failing to locate his enemy or identify the terrorist plot; in the end, it’s Seward who identifies Andrija and ultimately cracks the case and stops the planned attack.
Complaints aside, Allerdale and Seward present interesting contrasts, and there is much potential in them as characters in a continuing series. Allerdale is written in the same vein as James Bond (and he came to mind several times as the story unfolded) – but gay. He has sex in a bath house with his German counterpart (and former partner) shortly before he and Miles get together – the encounter is neither romantic or sexy. It’s business. Allerdale wants information and if sex is part of the exchange, he’s open to it. He likes men, he has relationships with men, and he’s a spy. Allerdale is not a conflicted gay man. Miles, on the other hand, is. But not because of his sexuality. Though comfortable (if slightly more circumspect) as a gay man, he’s not as reconciled to his role as a cross dresser. After discovering his gift for masquerading as a female in theatre productions at college, the SIS has exploited that ‘gift’ when they’ve needed a man (ha!) (but really, a woman) in the field. Miles enjoys his work for the SIS (which takes place primarily behind a desk) but resents the way the organisation has taken advantage of his ability to pass as a woman; he also doesn’t like being labeled by fellow agents as a cross-dresser, and is frustrated by the bigoted attitude many express as a result. He wants Allerdale to see and feel attracted to him as a gay man – not as Millie. Much of the conflict between Allerdale and Seward stems from Allerdale’s overprotective treatment of Miles. Miles might pass as a female, but he feels every bit as masculine as Allerdale.
Eleventh Hour is the first in a new series from Ms. Gregory. I didn’t dislike it – but aside from the interesting premise, it failed to deliver as either a spy thriller or a romance.