The protagonist of Jude Tresswell’s Badge of Loyalty is Mike Angells, a Gay CID (Criminal Investigation Department) inspector, (in America a plainclothes detective), based in northeast England. Mike’s life is rather ordinary (if you can call police work that): investigating Part I crimes; dealing with homophobic and/or just plain clueless straights in his department; and all the extra challenges of loving three different men simultaneously instead of just one. Although openly gay, he is not as open about the three men involved in his life: Ross Whitburn-Howe, gallery owner; Phil Roberts, doctor; and Raith Balan, artist. As indicated by the title, Mike’s byword is loyalty, and he is as loyal to his co-workers as he is to each of his lovers (including his first one, now deceased). And the red heart with a blue lemniscate tattooed on all four men’s arms is as important to Mike as his police badge.
Most of the time Mike can keep his life neatly compartmentalized, but all of that changes while investigating the suspicious death of a footballer in a gay club: the father of the primary suspect threatens blackmail, by exposing a years-old crime committed by Ross, unless Mike withholds incriminating evidence against his son. Mike’s vows of loyalty are suddenly in conflict, and his decision ultimately leads to a lot of soul-searching and a serious life change, but also to a brutal conclusion when two men (an ex-con and Raith’s former lover Peri), each bearing different grudges against Mike, team up to exact revenge.
Most of the narrative centers on Mike, and is delivered by an omniscient narrator, in the third person voice; but interspersed throughout are first-person asides by Ross, Phil, and Raith. These asides are just as interesting (perhaps more so) as the main action, for they flesh out the main story by explaining such things as each man’s individual back story, and the genesis of their relationships with Mike; for this reason, Raith, the last man to join their quad, has the fewest asides (although his are the longest). They also discuss each character’s perception of the nature of their relationships with Mike and each other; Ross, for example, considers himself monogamous since he has sex only with Mike, and never with the other two. Ross’s comment underscores a most interesting observation: everything is not perfectly equal between all four men, all the time; their relationship is a constantly shifting polygon, not a perfect square—or perhaps tetrahedron would be a more apt metaphor for an outsider’s expectation. In any event, this novel provides an example of polyamory and how it does and doesn’t work—at least for the four men involved (in this, as in most things, your mileage may vary).
Too erotic to be a pure police procedural, and too brutal for most erotica, this novel, like its protagonist, defies easy categorization; but readers who enjoy fast-paced stories will also enjoy this multi-faceted story, and the four men at the heart of it.
Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske