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Hearts On Fire Reviews

We read and review for the love and joy of books.

John Inman – Payback

Payback - John Inman

Reviewer: Vivian

Genre:MM Mystery


Review: Warning: Cheese grater book


Inman is becoming my go to have my heart ripped out, shredded on the aforementioned kitchen implement, and shoved back in. Not pretty angst with pretty tears and pity-filled empathy, but gritty, snotty tissues thrown on the floor around you kind of emotional turmoil. Destined to be catalogued on my catharsis shelf.


Oh... I liked this one, but I have a feeling there's a couple points that will be difficult for some readers to swallow.


This is a tragic story of unbearable loss, cruelty, and acceptance. There's no slow descent, it's fast and sharp. The story revolves around a hate crime and homophobia. Inman does an amazing job expressing the sensory experiences of his characters taking advantage of smell and sound in addition to sight and touch. And not always the pleasant. There's realism here and it allows the reader entré into the story to bear silent witness.


People are unique. How one can recover, make peace and move on while others think 'no way' years later? Processing grief is individual. For some it is swift and others it lingers on them like a blanket. While I understood the trajectory in this story, I suspect a few readers are going to find Tyler's bereavement too short. Having uttered these words, I know they are true:

“He loved you, Tyler. He would want you to be happy.”


Race is a component more than mere characterization. It's uncomfortable and like real life skirts the line of reality versus stereotype. It reflects the awkward relations for a whole subset of Hispanic peoples living in southern California who went from Spanish subject to Mexican citizen to American citizen never having moved. Add in the Chinese American component with Spencer and some people are going to feel like this is sensitive ground to tread. I personally found Tyler's attitude honest, and refreshing because of it. Just to be clear, it is not a racist book. It just doesn't whitewash it.

And then there's the issue of vengeance, vigilantism, and the law. The intersection here is a very gray area. It will raises questions about ethics. To this I say, the law is about order not justice. It is about maintaining civil order, not recompensation for loss. Lady Justice holds a sword; she's not swinging it.


The book is about Tyler's transformative process through the stages of grief. Yes, there is a romantic subplot that transects and complicates his journey, but it is not the primary focus. Chris remains partially hidden because this story is Tyler's and from Tyler's point of view, and I think that causes some of the uncertainty in regards to the morally ambiguous decision.


Overall, gut wrenching pain and loss; enjoy the stages of grief. Fear not, you do reach the final stage.


Favorite quote:

“Thank you for letting me in,” he whispered, his mouth still pressed to the base of my throat. “I’ll try to make you happy.”