Review: Long, Hard Ride by Keta Diablo

Grayson Drake has been sent by a covert spy agency from the South to break Marx Wellbourne out of Elmira Prison at all costs.

Ordered to return Wellbourne to Richmond so the Confederate Army can pick his brain about the maps he’s memorized, Gray soon discovers Marx is courting death from malaria and pneumonia. To complicate matters further, the decadent, gorgeous Wellbourne is none other than the same man he coveted from afar four years ago in a Charleston brothel.

Pursued by the villainous warden of the prison, Major Britton Darkmore, nothing is as it seems when intrigue, suspense and raw passion collide on the long, hard ride back to Richmond.

Review by Bruin Fisher

From the blurb above: “Marx is courting death from malaria and pneumonia”. Courting death in my version of the English language is daringly taking risks that could cost one’s life. Malaria and pneumonia don’t count. In the hands of a master, inventing new uses for words can work, Shakespeare did it and his usage stuck. But here it makes for difficult and laboured reading. Several times the sound of a cough is described as a chortle – which I always thought was a kind of laugh, but what do I know? I quite like this: one of the characters wakes up

“Sore and dogmatically stiff, but nothing a dip in the river and a hot meal wouldn’t rectify.”

And

“He’d checked the bottle of quinine before their trek to the river only to find it empty. Another conundrum.”

If you’re going to read this book you will have to cope with a lot of flowery prose, some of which doesn’t make much sense, such as this:

“Gray lingered between darkness and light it seemed for eons. He likened his re-emergence to that of a drowning man who’d thrashed and clobbered his way through the claws of a cloven-hoofed demon.”

and a thin plot, and characters who act without much apparent motivation. If you can get past that, there is some mildly enjoyable reading in the middle part of the book when the two main characters are fleeing their pursuers and failing to decide whether they like, love, distrust or just hate each other.

Grayson Drake is a physician from the town near the prison, and also an agent of the Confederates (Gray, see?) sent to spring the man the blurb describes as ‘the decadent, gorgeous Marx Wellbourne’ from prison. He has to get him back to Confederate territory for de-briefing, since he has information about battle maps which will, apparently, change the course of the war. We don’t ever discover quite why it will change the course of the war, and when he finally hands it over he points out that it’s months old.

Wellbourne is, apparently, gorgeous although he’s skin and bone after a starvation diet in prison and “two days in the sweat box had greatly compromised his maladies”. He’s also well-born (Wellbourne, see?), having inherited a big southern estate and slaves although slavery is, of course, abhorrent to him – after all his name’s Marx. We are not, however, given any evidence that he’s decadent. He’s a corporal which seems to be an elevated rank although in the Confederate army it was only one grade up from the lowest enlisted man, the private. His vocabulary includes shit, and bugger, and fuck, and Jesus and Christ used as expletives, which doesn’t quite ring true considering he’s a Southern Gentleman and not a mill worker from the North of England. He has heroically helped ten other prisoners to escape and for his trouble ended up in the ‘sweat box’, presumably a punishment cell of some sort, and contracted pneumonia, and malaria, apparently from drinking the water from a frog-infested pool – no mention of the usual mosquito bite transmission method. Why the poor frogs are implicated, I can’t say.

Gray gives Marx a forged pass hidden in a Bible to get him through the front gate of the prison, and a Union soldier’s uniform with a knife in the pocket, but no help with getting past the locked door of his cell. We’ve been told that the door is heavy, and metal, and incorporates metal bars, and that it is unlocked by inserting a key (but apparently there’s no need to turn it) and it can then be opened despite its weight by pushing with a toe. Gray has hinted to the guard that Marx may be very infectious, and dying, and warned him to keep well away from the prisoner, despite which Marx convinces the guard to hold his hand and read to him from the psalms, and then he threatens him with the knife until he hands over the keys.

We have to assume that the rest of the escape goes smoothly, because the next chapter begins when Gray and Marx rendezvous in woods and begin their ‘long, hard ride’ to Richmond, Virginia, pursued by the prison warden, Major Britton Darkmore (he’s the baddie, Darkmore, get it?) who considers their capture so crucial that he’s abandoned his prison and searches the towns on their route house by house with a posse of soldiers to help him. It’s difficult to see why Wellbourne’s memorised battle maps, months old, can be quite so important to Darkmore or to the Confederate ‘covert spy agency’ either. Are there any other kinds of spy agency?

Wellbourne and Drake have seen each other before, in a brothel they both frequented. Now they are attracted to each other despite their continuing distrust of each other – although Drake has sprung Wellbourne from prison and is doing his best to get him back to his own lines, which would be enough reason to trust each other, you’d think.

They pause on their journey and Wellbourne’s exhausted condition doesn’t prevent them having energetic sex. A day later Drake has been shot in the chest and they get the wound treated by an Iroquois healer, a friend of Gray’s whose camp fire “flared in the middle of a small clearing. Behind it stood a lean-to, the slanted mud and straw roof sagging like his Aunt Rosie’s tits.” Aunt Rosie, I should point out, plays no further part in the story – very wise of her, I’d say.

They’ve smelled the smoke of the fire from a distance but apparently their pursuers missed it so they can spend some time and recuperate. The next day they have more energetic sex despite the chest wound. The sex scenes are among the better passages of the book, although there’s a hint of BDSM which never really takes hold. These are two men physically attracted to each other but there’s no affection developing between them.

The day they strike camp and continue their journey, Gray has pain in his arm, but he “rotated his arm in a circle and realized most of the pain stemmed from stiffness”. Nevertheless he apparently loses the use of it for the next few pages and there is no further mention of the bullet wound in his chest. Marx’s pneumonia and malaria seem to be better, too.

So: can I recommend this book to you, dear reader? Umm… well, No. Sorry. It’s rubbish, poorly written hokum. None of the characters are particularly likeable, there’s no satisfactory resolution of tension, very little plot (I’ve told you nearly all of it) and although civil war dates and events are mentioned there’s nothing about the characters or their dialogue that anchors them to the early 1860’s. I give it two stars because the cover art is attractive, although the man in the picture looks about a hundred and fifty years too modern. Oh, and the punctuation is immaculate.

Author’s Website

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5 Responses

  1. Thank you for the very comprehensive, and well thought out review. Doesn’t sound like something I would enjoy, though I was intrigued by the idea that Marx’s information was already out of date by the time he’s rescued. Was that really raised as an issue between the protagonists at all?

  2. The prison warden Darkmore intended to torture Marx to get the information out of him, which I didn’t understand – his side already had that information, all Darkmore needed to do was keep Marx from passing it to the other side. The information consisted of ‘battle maps’ which were all in Marx’s head so he must have had a remarkable memory. Whether these maps were of battles that had taken place, or of battles in the planning stage, wasn’t made clear. Gray springs him and gets him back to Confederate lines where he is able to draw out the maps from memory and hand them to Gray’s spymaster, but he does so with an apology that they’re now months old. I don’t remember Gray and Marx discussing the obsolescence of the information.

  3. Hello Erastes and followers of Speak Its Name,

    First off, I know some feel it’s not “kosher” to respond to a review, but I think in this case, a response is merited.

    I’m sorry you didn’t like Long Hard Ride, but I’m also very grateful it’s been on the Amazon best seller list off and on for months. I’m also quite aware that everyone has very different tastes when it comes to reading, as do I. But one thing I don’t do is review genres I also write. In fact, it’s rare I ever review a colleague’s book. I have always believed if you write in the genre, there is a “blatant” conflict of interest present. It’s best to obtain reviews from sites that don’t have a “personal” interest in the genre. And one has a “personal” interest in reviewing gay fiction if they they also write gay fiction.

    Secondly, you and I have had very civil discussions about this topic in the past. I’m aware you think your “reviewing Integrity” rises above the conflict of interest. I disagree.

    As a writer, my time is very limited when it comes to reading. I’m therefore very selective when I start scouring the Net for new reads. It’s doubtful I’d pay hard-earned money for a book from an author I have not liked in the past (I mean the writing). It’s apparent from past reviews (that have also been best-sellers on Amazon) you haven’t cared for my style — and again, this is perfectly acceptable. But the question remains why on earth do you continue to read my books? Seems like a terrible waste of your time. If I’d read three books by an author and found tons of stuff to dislike, I wouldn’t purchase another in the future.

    I want to assure you, Erastes, my comments below are not sour grapes. They are legitimate responses to points made in your very lengthy review. Since you raised the points and therefore rated my book accordingly, I should respond. We do not agree on the issues you brought forth, so I can’t help but wonder if you took your time reading Long, Hard Ride.

    Your review: “It’s difficult to see why Wellbourne’s memorised battle maps, months old, can be quite so important to Darkmore or to the Confederate ‘covert spy agency’ either. ”

    I’m sorry it was difficult for you to comprehend why battle maps were integral to winning the war. The book opened in 1864 (see first page). To the best of my knowledge, the Civil War raged until 1865. Marx was a high-ranking Union army officer, had memorized maps from previous battles (great memory retention is a viable blessing). Silly me, I thought battle maps, cannon position, methodology, etc, might help the South in future battles against the North.

    Your review: . . . “contracted pneumonia, and malaria, apparently from drinking the water from a frog-infested pool – no mention of the usual mosquito bite transmission method. Why the poor frogs are implicated, I can’t say.”

    From The World Health Organization:
    Eliminate places where mosquitoes lay eggs; i.e., ponds, man-made lakes, reclaim land by filling and draining;

    Mentioning an infested man-made pond should suffice. It goes without saying frogs eat mosquito larvae, thus frogs gravitate to ponds. If frogs have infested a pond, they are there to find a food source, i.e. mosquitoes. Malaria comes from mosquitoes.

    Your review . . . . . “but no help with getting past the locked door of his cell.”

    From the book: “The hardest part wasn’t ‘taking the keys from him’, but trying to convince him to hold my hand and read Psalms 23 before I died.” He chuckled. “’Bout the time he got to, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,’ the knife was at his throat and he handed them over real nice like.”

    He didn’t have to get past the “locked” door — once he took the keys from the guard.

    Your review . . . . “shortly before the “energetic” sex.”

    From the book: “With every passing hour, Gray felt his strength return.”

    The wound Gray received occurred a day or two before, then he was treated by an Iroquois healer (a tad unconventional from physicians of the time). It was clearly stated that Gray recovered from the wound because of this, and the “energetic” sex was not “shortly” after he acquired the wound.

    I could continue, but I don’t have the time to go through every one of your points. They’re all very similar in the content above. Again, I want to assure you I’m not in the least upset. As authors, we need to accept the “bad” with the good. And believe me, I’ve received my share of two star reviews. I don’t object to the rating nearly as much as I object to the “moot” points you raised.

    I have no intention of coming back to answer responses. That’s not in anyone’s best interest. This post isn’t made to begin a vitriolic diatribe about a review — or about the nerve of an author who dare respond to one. I think all authors, as long as they’re civil and polite, have a right to respond to a review, good or bad, without causing a cyber war. It’s okay to agree to disagree as long as we maintain our civility.

    What my response is about is reviewer integrity. Authors, and more importantly readers (they are our bread and butter) have a right to an honest, unbiased review. I don’t consider one from someone who also writes gay fiction either honest or unbiased. But you already knew that.Thanks for the wonderful site, Speak Its Name. There are many nice things about the site.

    My best (and I mean that sincerely) Keta

  4. I appreciate your candour Keta, but you’ve omitted to realise one simple thing. I didn’t read, nor did I review this book. It was done by one of my reviewers as you can see by the byline.

  5. Reviewer integrity means that a reviewer writes an honest opinion based on the book, with reasons given for the opinion. There is no such thing as an ‘unbiased’ review. The best anyone can expect is an honest review, and all readers are free to agree or disagree.

    The reviews here are honest.

    Reviews are for readers. A review site will review books even if the reviewer does not enjoy them, because readers often want an opinion before spending their money. I notice that each of your three books, Keta, was reviewed by a different reader, and none of them were Erastes herself. I know that she avoids reading friends’ books to avoid even the appearance of favoritism, and I think giving your book to three different reviewers was giving you as a writer as fair a range of opinions as possible.

    Criticism hurts. But “publish” means to make public, and if you do so, the public — readers and reviewers and yes, other writers — are entitled to publish their opionions.

    I almost never read reviews of my work because it’s always annoying when a reviewer simply isn’t on the same wavelength — even if the review is mostly favorable. But I’d rather get honest crit than OMG teh HAWT! without any rhyme or reason.

    If you only want flattery, this isn’t the review site to monitor.

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