Short Story Review: CONVERSATION HEARTS by Avon Gale

Conversation Hearts
By: Avon Gale
Release Date: February 10, 2016
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press


It’s Valentine’s Day, and grad student—and male escort—Levi Barron expects to spend his evening with a client who’s paying him for his services in bed… not an assassin who needs to borrow the view from his hotel room in the morning.

With nothing to do but endure the company of his unwanted guest, Levi and the assassin, Sinjin, spend some time bonding over HGTV, minibar beverages, Flannery O’Connor short stories, terrible Valentine’s candy, and the necessity of lying about their jobs.

Their evening takes an unexpected turn when they decide to indulge in their mutual attraction, and in the morning Levi doesn’t know if he’s spent the night with a hired killer or a hydraulic engineer with a very specific fantasy. Either way, the two have enough chemistry—in and out of bed—that Levi isn’t sure one night with Sinjin will be enough.

And a message left in candy suggests the feeling is mutual.

Preorder Links: Amazon | Dreamspinner Press

Author Links: Website | Facebook | Twitter



My rating: 5 of 5 stars


In Flannery O’Connor’s canonical short story A Good Man is Hard to Find, a murderer known as The Misfit kills an entire family. The last one to die is the grandmother, who tries to appeal to The Misfit’s humanity and talk him out of killing her. Just when she’s about to give up, when she doesn’t know what she was saying anymore, she hears a crack in the Misfit’s voice.

His voice seemed about to crack and the grandmother’s head cleared for an instant. She saw the man’s face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children.” She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest.

“She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”


In Conversation Hearts by Avon Gale, a rent boy and assassin spend the night together in a hotel room, where the rent boy had an appointment with a client and the assassin had an appointment with a kill. There’s no record of their meeting since the assassin had expected the room to be empty and the rent boy’s client apparently never checked in.

When Levi opens the door to see a gun pointed at his head, his first instinct is to talk the assassin out of killing him. He figures if he can get the assassin to see him as a human being, he’ll get out of the hotel room alive. He starts by getting the assassin’s name, Sinjin. As the evening progresses, they learn more about each other and bond over shared interests, good literature, and philosophical discourse about human nature among other things. Eventually, their bonding leads to sex. The sex is kinky, intimate, and revealing, because before the night is over Levi is sure that Sinjin won’t kill him.

“Levi,” Sinjin said, and there was something so human, so tired, in his voice that Levi didn’t recoil when Sinjin lightly, almost hesitantly, touched his shoulder. “This is-I don’t know how to explain this to you, but this is the most normal night I’ve ever had. With someone who knows what I am and what I do. I understand it has to end, and I knew this was going to happen eventually, but could we just not do this part?”

“What part?” Levi asked, and he was tired too-tired and sad, because Sinjin’s accent was sneaking in, and Levi liked how it sounded. Sinjin was cute and funny, and despite the serial-killer eyes, he seemed like a normal guy. He liked literature and he was good in bed, and he, too, knew what Levi did and didn’t seem to care.

Like Flannery O’Connor short story, Conversation Hearts questions if all human life is worth saving and if love and compassion truly can change the world one person at a time. If you read this is as a love story, then you’ll believe the sex was transformative and stripped Levi and Sinjin of not only their clothes but their self-defense mechanisms. If you read romance because you believe love conquers all, then you have to believe that in the end the assassin and the rent boy will find their happy ever after together.

But if you find hope in the idea of antiheroes deserving redemption, whether or not they are monsters or prostitutes, but because they are human too, then you’ll love the open-ended resolution. You can choose the way the story ends. Because it says something about you if can have compassion for a murderer and a whore.

Is it a coincidence or is it ironic that an assassin and a prostitute are the only two people in their world capable of perceiving and treating each other as human beings? Was Sinjin really an assassin? Or was it all a trick? In this sophisticated, poignant, and erotic, Valentine’s Day short story, Avon Gale shows us that one heart-to-heart conversation can mean and quite possibly change everything.

*ARC received from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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