Hiding the Moon
Hiding the Moon is nominally book four in Amy Lane’s Fish Out of Water series, but really it’s a branch off the main tree, a spin-off featuring some of the characters who appeared in secondary roles in the previous book, A Few Good Fish. (For which there are spoilers in this review). In that book, our heroes – Jackson Rivers and Ellery Cramer – were pursuing an investigation into a shady quasi-military organisation that they believed responsible for training and unleashing a particularly violent, sadistic serial killer into society (and probably more like him). Certain lines of enquiry led them back to an encounter they’d had a while back, in the tiny desert town of Victoriana, at the home and garage belonging to Ace Atchison and Sonny Daye (from Racing for the Sun), a pair of ex-military guys who live as far below the radar as possible and are keen to keep it that way – and they become instrumental in helping Jackson and Ellery to bring down the leader of the group known as Corduroy, and in closing down the whole operation.
The events of Hiding the Moon take place immediately before and during those of A Few Good Fish, and focus on two of the other characters featured in that book – black-ops assassin Lee Burton and psychic Ernie Caulfield (and yes, the Burt and Ernie reference hasn’t escaped me!). If you haven’t read the previous book at the very least, you’ll be completely lost here, as this one really only works as part of the series as a whole. It began life as a series of shorts on Ms. Lane’s website to introduce these characters who were to play a pivotal role in A Few Good Fish and then she decided to write their story in full.
Lee Burton’s targets are usually the scum of the earth, so he expects the next one he’s given by his handler will be some low life scumbag. But Ernie Caufield? He’s just a club bunny who likes to party, feeds all the local stray cats and works at a small coffee shop; and Lee can’t for the life of him fathom why anyone would want him dead. But before he has the chance to start figuring out what’s going on, someone else tries to kill Ernie; Lee ends up saving his life and takes him to the safest place he knows – the garage in Victoriana owned by his friends Ace and Sonny. One the way, he learns that Ernie was orphaned at seventeen when his parents were killed in an accident Ernie now suspects wasn’t one. After being bounced around the foster system a bit, he was whisked away by the military and spent a year working as part of a secret project that used him – specifically his ability to read people – to identify those who could be moulded into perfect soldiers. After that nearly destroyed him, the military cut him loose and he’s been alone ever since, using sex and recreational drugs to dull the incessant noise in his head. Whoever wants Ernie dead was obviously prepared to go to great lengths to make it happen, and Lee knows Ernie will never be safe unless he can find out what’s going on. After leaving Ernie with Ace and Sonny, Lee infiltrates Corduroy and spends months embedded there while he gradually puts together the pieces, and at the same time, he becomes involved in their surveillance on Jackson and Ellery – which involves him listening to them having a lot of sex, Jackson’s frequent grumbling to his cat (which always crack me up) and to their various discoveries and theorising as they plan to bring down Commander Lacey and Corduroy. Realising that they are the ‘fish and the shark’ about whom Ernie had a premonition just before they parted, Lee deliberately conceals what Jackson and Ellery are really up to from those around him while he makes plans of his own – which have to be completely re-made when Ellery and Ace are abducted.
Right from the moment Lee and Ernie meet, Lee is simultaneously drawn to, confused by and fascinated by Ernie, who seems to say whatever comes into his head and is clearly attracted to him. Lee isn’t sure how to handle that; he’s only ever slept with women, but has always known he’s not completely straight, and there’s something about Ernie that is so utterly sweet, so guileless and compelling that he simply can’t deny or resist the pull of the attraction crackling between them. He tries to dismiss what happens that one night on the road as a hook-up, even as, deep down, he realises it’s something far beyond that. And Ernie… well, he just has to wait for Lee to catch up with what he already knows.
I felt, initially, that this part of the story was rushed. Lee and Ernie end up in bed very early on and I didn’t really feel the emotional connection between them that the author told me was there. But as the story progressed, everything began to fall into place. Lee and Ernie actually spend a fair bit of time (several months) apart during the course of the story, and are only able to interact occasionally by text – when Ernie’s lyrical poetry blows Lee away – and to see each other rarely, on a few stolen but magical nights where Lee is able to get away from the camp. We see Ernie becoming more comfortable around Ace and Sonny and starting to fit in to their odd but close-knit family, and Lee realising how much Ernie means to him and what they could have together if he can be brave enough to reach out and grab it. The fact they have to remain apart makes these interactions all the more poignant, and because they are never far from each other’s thoughts, it’s easier for the reader to accept their separation as a necessary evil and not to find it too frustrating.
Even though Lee is the more proactive character in the story – he’s the one working with the bad guys at great risk to himself, after all – Ernie is by far the more rounded character. He has very little to do until the end of the story; mostly he’s just living day to day, helping out at the garage, getting to know Ace, Sonny and their small circle, yet Ms. Lane manages to make him into a complex, interesting character who really grew on me throughout the course of the story.
In general, I enjoy stories that give me a different perspective on a tale I’m already familiar with, although the downside to it here is that I knew how things would turn out, which did take something away from the suspense angle. But when I finished Hiding the Moon, I didn’t feel as though I’d just read the same story for a second time. Yes, there are overlapping elements, but Lee and Ernie’s story is fresh and sweet and funny, and kept me entertained in its own right. If you’ve been following the Fish Out of Water series, it’s a nice off-shoot, although Lee and Ernie aren’t going to supplant Jackson and Ellery as one of my favourite couples any time soon.