What it’s about: (from Goodreads) Mac is afraid he’ll never recover enough to go back to being a cop, while Tony is afraid that he will.
Three months after being shot, Detective Jared MacLean is healing, but he’s afraid it may not be enough to go back on the job. He won’t give up, though. Being a cop is written deep in Mac’s bones, and he’ll do whatever it takes to carry his badge again.
Tony used to wish he could have Mac safely home, but watching his strong husband battle disabilities is far from Tony’s dream come true. When Mac is asked to consult on a case involving one of Tony’s students, both men will have to face old demons and new fears to find a way to move forward together.
Warning: Series spoilers.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): I like Mac and Tony and there is something attractive to me in seeing what happens “after the HEA” for some of my favourite couples. At the end of the last book, Mac had been shot in the head and was on disability, recovering from a traumatic brain injury, his goal being to get back to the job he loves. Tony is struggling with wanting Mac to be safe and wanting him to be the man he is – something which seems mutually exclusive.
Learning Curve picks up some three months after the shooting, when Mac is being assessed for return to work. He’s not quite ready yet – things in his peripheral vision make him jumpy and when he’s stressed he gets his words mixed up. The Broca’s aphasia has left him with a fairly flat “robotic” tone and he’s been having intensive speech therapy to improve his inflection and to regain his comfortable use of contractions. The way he is written is consistent throughout the book and, while it is not distracting, it does remind the reader that Mac is still affected. His intellectual abilities are unaffected thankfully and he has been working out (much to Tony’s appreciation) and is in the best physical shape of his life. Mac wants to return to full duties – if he goes back on partial disability he is concerned no-one will ever want to work with him and he feels he will have insufficient armor against the homophobia and bigotry he has experienced from some of his fellow officers. But, Mac doesn’t want to give up. He is determined to return to the force – he doesn’t really know how to define himself without it. Tony is terrified that Mac will be injured on the job again and part of him hopes Mac will not be able to return to the force but an equal part of him knows how much it means to Mac. Essentially, that is the conflict the couple face in this book.
There was never really any doubt for me that they would make it through together and so, I found the book kind of lacking in conflict/tension. Mac is asked to consult on a case because of his facility with witnesses and, as one of the witnesses is gay and is in one of Tony’s classes, Mac is able to connect and gain trust that other officers could not. The case forms the backdrop of the book. It provides an opening and and ending in the story but it didn’t really drive the story, in my opinion.
There is also Tony’s formal adoption of Ben looming on the horizon, Mac’s family history is revealed somewhat after a crisis and Tony is still dealing with bigots at school.
I don’t think one could pick this book up and connect and enjoy it without having read the earlier books. I was able to put aside (mostly) that the story lacked conflict, for the enjoyment of spending time with the characters. But, that enjoyment was based on the history in the three previous books (and the various novellas) – I don’t think it would have made any kind of impact if I’d started here. It would make sense because of course, the story makes sense, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as engaging.
I love the way Mac and Tony are together and how their relationship has grown and evolved since we first met them in Life Lessons (scroll down). I still get a kick out of seeing them work together to parent Anna and Ben, how they manage their lives together and share their affection in big and little ways. But the book isn’t something which is full of tension and conflict – or at least, it wasn’t for me. It felt more like a slice of life. Read that way, it was a success, but I would hope for more tension (external is fine – I’m quite happy for Tony and Mac to be solid) in future books.
“Look in that mirror,” he whispered. “There. That stunning, big, dark man, and that smaller guy. That’s you and that’s me. And that’s fucking hot and gorgeous and just about perfect. That’s as gay as an Easter parade, and still completely about two real men. Your family can throw insults, and they can shun us, and they can discriminate all they want, but they can’t make that less than fucking perfect.”