29 Palms: "A fresh, gay, adventure story"
If you’re looking for a fresh, gay, adventure story, then pick up first novel by Stephen Hess, 29 Palms. The story revolves around an American operative, Shane Hamill and an American Marine, Kyle Matthews. The two men first meet accidentally in California’s vast Joshua Tree National Park and in the nearby town and Marine base of Twentynine Palms.
Shane has had a very successful career as a deadly operative of the Agency, part of the United States government. He has spent decades as an assassin in the service of his country, but he’s had no real life outside his work.
His love of motorcycles, Shane’s favorite form of transport as well as recreational release, brings him to Southern California on an assignment. But he’s tiring of the job that allows him no real outside relationships.
Younger Marine Sgt. Kyle is finishing his tour of duty at the Twentynine Palms base, after service in the Middle East war zones. He too is thinking about life after service to his country.
Their paths cross as each races across the wide-open spaces of the Joshua Tree Park on their bikes. A chance encounter in a local bar leads to a challenging meeting at Keys View, the park’s famous viewpoint. A romantic connection develops quickly, after some initial hesitation by two lonely man.
A gay relationship is new to both men and their pasts warn them of the obstacles against a future together. Cee, Shane’s Agency boss, has plans of her own, which involve the older man. Shane in turn feels it would be too dangerous to tell Kyle what he does for a living or involve him in any way. All the plans collide when Kyle is kidnapped and tortured for information by members of the Mexican drug cartel.
But as the two men have realized that their first love has many layers, so the plans of their opponents have more than one level. Desperate to find his new younger love, Shane risks his future and his life. Kyle is equally desperate to understand why he’s being tortured relentlessly.
Moving rapidly from Southern California’s wide-open parks and spaces to Mexico’s arid northern deserts, 29 Palms keeps the reader guessing the romantic outcome and provides a surprise climax to the adventurous life of two men who have everything to gain, if they can stay alive.
Hess has a sharp eye for detail in his descriptions of landscape and clothing and a good ear for fresh dialogue in some of his love scenes.
Exciting adventure in the open spaces of the West, with a touching and believable love story between two men looking for a new meaning to their lives make 29 Palms a real introduction to the work of Stephen Hess.
Review provided by 29 Palms reader John Alex