Book review: ‘Take Down’ hits some of the marks

Character growth, suspense, plot all seem half-baked

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COURTESY OF JESS ANASTASI

A love triangle focused around three men in Texas? What more could I ask for?

JUSTIN WASHINGTON, Evergreen reporter, columnist

You caught me. I am a huge sucker for romance books.

It was how I spent a good portion of quarantine last year. I read a few books that centered around my interests and laughed and cried and judged and criticized.

Jess Anastasi’s “Take Down” is one of those cases. The premise of the plot is simple: Danny, a gay man who lives in Houston, Texas, has to return to his hometown of Everness, Texas, to help take care of his sick mother.

The book starts off with him in a car accident with a dead body on the scene. He is rescued by local Deputy Jake Perez — a man who came to Everness and became a cop to avenge his brother. Jake immediately takes a liking to Danny.

Jake spends the entirety of the story having his eyes set on two men. In a favorable manner, he has his newfound crush — and later boyfriend — Danny. In a less favorable manner, he has Leroy Hobbs: a white supremacist gang leader who got away with murdering his younger sibling.

Nobody knows about Jake’s relationship with either of them, which only heightens his personal distress when Danny ends up in the line of danger multiple times throughout the novel.

Right off the bat, there are a couple of things I respect about Anastasi in relation to this work. She prefaces the story by saying that it is possible some things are inaccurate in regards to the police aspect of the novel because she was never a police officer herself.

As both a writer and a reader, I highly respect that. Authors try their best to portray things accurately, but many forget they essentially are one life attempting to live about 10 different lives. Not everything is going to be on the dot. It is humbling to admit that.

Furthermore, I found out Anastasi was born and currently resides in Australia. Even if she visited the U.S. at some point, I commend her for her ability to capture another culture so well when she grew up in a different one.

She does this through her illustration of racism and homophobia in a conservative religious setting. Not only are Danny and Jake a homosexual couple, but they are also interracial. There is so much scrutiny that they face where they live.

The readers will see racists scowl at Jake, Danny dealing with his severely homophobic father, and the two cautiously discovering just how far they can take their relationship before everyone around them finds out.

There are also personal conflicts to be discovered, such as Jake struggling to keep his real motivations for coming to Everness under wraps and Danny fighting with the dilemma of standing up to his father or continuing to obey him.

It is really interesting to delve into those conflicts because these situations happen in small-town America even in today’s world.

This book is labeled as romantic suspense. My overall opinion is that Anastasi nailed the romance, but severely lacked in the suspense department.

The dynamic between Danny and Jake is more adorable than words can describe. It is the perfect blend of cheesiness and heartwarming goodness. I really liked the pacing and the development of their love.

But for the suspense side, I almost question if it can even be called that. Danny is put in several near-death situations throughout the entirety of the novel, which the police dismiss as “random acts.” However, Jake is convinced they are not random acts and ties all of the acts to one suspect: Leroy.

That is it. One suspect. There is no mystery for the reader whatsoever because the reader is only given one antagonist to focus on. Once you connect all of the dots within the first couple of chapters, the rest of the book becomes predictable.

Personally, I think this novel would have thrived better as a slice of life.

An additional gripe I have with the book is the lack of character development. We know almost nothing about Jake’s backstory except for the fact that he served in the military. I never quite figured out what that had to do with anything in the story because the reader never even learns why he joined the military and what he gained from it.

One of the few prominent side characters — Gina — suffers a bad development fate. In the beginning of the story, she is the supportive best friend of Danny who has kept him sane throughout living at home with his father.

For some reason, Anastasi thought it was a good idea to make Gina an almost pervert as her friend gets closer to Jake. One such example of this is when the three of them are at a diner.

Jake wants to kiss Danny but knows he cannot do so in public. So, as a solution, he proposes the idea of kissing Gina on the cheek and having Gina kiss Danny on the cheek as a way to “pass it on.”

But just as Jake is about to kiss Gina on the cheek, Gina decides to full-on kiss Jake on the lips as a means to “experience him.” While I recognize that this was probably meant to be funny, I only felt annoyed. As a homosexual myself, I do not like it when other homosexuals are represented as objects in that sense.

After that scene, we never see Gina in the story come back. While it was maybe for the best, it is inconsistent with her character of being a supportive best friend.

Overall, I think “Take Down” is a decent read. It may have some notable flaws to it, but there are some aspects that can still be enjoyed.

The political relevance by illustrating racism and homophobia in a small town is perfect. The super cute romance is worth experiencing. I would recommend this book for those aspects.

But maybe avoid going into this expecting to be subject to a lot of suspense. That part of the story just is not there.