Because You Despise Me

Written by J. S. Cook
Review by B. J. Sedlock

American Jake Plenty runs a saloon and brothel in World War II Morocco. Resistance fighter Abaroa kills a German soldier in the brothel so he can steal the exit visas the man carried. Captain Nicolas Renard, prefect of police, comes to investigate. He and Jake have a past, having served together in World War I, and a romantic relationship between them begins to grow. Then another blast from Jake’s past turns up in Maarif: Picard had swept Jake out of a male brothel back in ´20s Paris, though their relationship later went sour. Picard, also with the Resistance, comes to Maarif trailing a wife, to Jake’s dismay. Add to the mix the Nazi officer Danzig, sent to investigate the soldier’s death and apprehend Picard. He has no scruples about using torture to get the information he wants, and threatens the men with concentration camps and pink triangles. Both Picard and Danzig are a threat to Jake and Nicolas’s nascent romance, not to mention their lives.

There are some similarities to the film Casablanca’s plot, but it’s more of an homage, morphed into a male/male romance. I liked some of Cook’s turns of phrase, such as: “trailing a little cloud of sycophants.” There are several steamy bedroom scenes. The ending was a bit of a letdown, which to me seemed resolved too quickly and patly for the previous level of plot complication. An epilogue tells where the characters ended up after the war. Cook also includes an appendix describing organizations (with contact information) which provide aid to LGBT people. Male/male romance fans, and those who like tales of espionage and wartime fiction, will enjoy this novel.