“Rise above as you sink below. Twisting thoughts of the past unknown. Nothing stable. Nothing sane. So much loss. Imaginary gain....Chaos nothing but a little passing strife. Take my hand and follow me. Let’s get lost together on life’s rolling sea. One, two, three, four, madness knocking at your door. Will you open and let it in or will your ego say “I win”?” ~ Darla McGinns (Rise Above)
John Griffin and Michael South, from 'Last Line' by Harper Fox, live for the excitement and adventure of their top-secret anti-terrorist group, but they live for each other too. They have an uncanny ability to be in each other's heads, knowing, even before being told, what the other is thinking. They are a well-oiled machine and it's what makes them excel as partners. John wants more, but there's this huge wall between them he can't penetrate. Michael just won't give in and admit he wants to be with John, but John won't tell Michael how he feels either. They belong together, on so many levels, but what it takes to get them there is almost unimaginable.
In addition to his unrequited love for Michael, John is guardian for his younger brother, Quin, who is always in trouble at school. No one knows what to do with this obviously brilliant boy who is bored to tears and keeps running away. Because John and Michael are such good friends, John often spends time with Michael at his grandfather's home in the country, helping him rebuild it. Quin is there sometimes as well and considers Michael to be his uncle. Often Michael is a better parent than John, maybe because John is Quin's eldest brother and he's too close where Michael is removed just enough to understand. John finally gets Michael to be intimate with him, but what happens is more frightening than pleasurable. Set off by the sex, Michael turns into a violent lunatic, asking John to do far more than he's willing to do, regardless of how much he loves Michael. While reeling from that experience, an ex-lover, Anzhel, comes back into the picture pushing John to the side and taking Michael back under his control. John is furious and afraid for Michael, but has to respect his wishes.
Michael is far more damaged than John realizes. He has huge gaps in his memory and what he can recall may or may not be the truth. His torture was extreme, painful, and soul stealing and he will never be the man he was before. Michael loves John, but can't imagine how anyone could love him, even his loyal, faithful friend, especially the way he loses control when his conditioning is triggered, even with John telling Michael he knows his behavior is not who Michael is. Under Anzhel's influence, Michael makes some bad choices, especially when he involves Quin, who has run away from school again, putting him in danger. Quin takes over when Michael becomes incapacitated and gets Michael back to the farmhouse where he is not in a position to carry out the final stage of conditioning. John joins them, but their troubles are far from over.
If a story profoundly affects me, then I feel it's accomplished its purpose. In this case, Harper has definitely done that. The book is dark, complex, and brilliant all at the same time. There is so much information, clues, secrecy, and deceit, at times it was difficult to follow. True to Harper's style, the descriptions are clear and concise, and, particularly in this story, almost unbearably realistic at times. Character development is off the charts for both main characters and vilians alike. I had a deep, visceral reaction to them; love them or hate them, they are unforgettable. This is not the kind of book one can read lightly; it took all of my concentration to follow what happened with Harper's rapid-fire style of writing. There are some loose ends which left me with a lot of unanswered questions, but I realize this is the first book in a new series; hopefully these questions will be answered in the next sequel. If you like your books dark, gritty with action, violence, torture, mind control, secret agents, paranormal happenings, and sex consensual and non-consensual, then this book may be for you. Thanks, Harper, for the extraordinary, intense experience.