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Retro Reading: Harlan's Race by Patricia Nell Warren


It was no secret that I wasn't a fan of The Front Runner, but the sequel is definitely a lot better, yet I couldn't figure out what category it falls in.

As the book begins, it's the summer of 1990 and after a page or two, we're taken back to the Montreal Olympics in 1976 and the events that transpired at the games.

The authorities believe that there was a second sniper and believe that Harlan Brown's life is in danger (along with those who know him) and it's only a matter of time before the sniper makes his presence known.

Harlan has to protect those around him, including Betsy, the lesbian mother who had Billy's son through artificial insemination. He believes that she's more in danger than anyone else.

As the years go on, Harlan has been incognito living with his friend Steve Goodnight on Fire Island and has become a clam fisherman. He's also started a relationship with Vince Matti, Billy's best friend.

Yet Vince is a wild card as he wants to see justice for all gay men and women and he wants to send a message. He's a ticking time bomb.

Unbeknownst to him, Vince is sent away by Harlan (under the watchful eye of Harry and Chino bodyguards to Harlan) where Vince will be trained in secret to deal with his anger issues. Harlan's told that the whole process will take about two to three years.

As time goes by, the relationship between Vince and Harlan has it's ups and downs and they also become aware of a rare cancer that's been seen in a few gay men. It causes concern, but no one seems too concerned yet.

When Steve Goodnight dies, he leaves everything to Harlan and eventually Harlan decides to write. As a former newspaper reporter, he decides that he needs to write a book about Billy.

After Vince's training, he decides that he's not cut out to be a radical protestor and moves to California where he gets a job at an up and coming production company.

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Occasionally, Harlan receives a threat and calls in Harry and Chino who advise him what to do, but Harlan's mad that Betsy has also left him and moved to northern California where she met someone and the two raise the baby.

Vince becomes active in a Front Runner's group that has put on a Billy Sive Memorial Run for the last two years and he convinces Harlan to move out to California, since the production company has been working on the last project that Steve Goodnight wrote.

Chino comes out to Fire Island and helps Harlan move to California and discovers that Betsy's lover was killed in an accident and that she's disappeared. Harlan's pissed that she didn't leave a forwarding address for him.

After much debating, Harlan agrees to help with the memorial run and since it's early January, they have nine months to prepare for whatever might happen at the run.

With Harlan and Vince's on and off again relationship, they finally decide that they should be a couple and Vince has to take all of the necessary tests that he had taken before. It's discovered that he has hepatitis, but Harlan can live with it.

As the run comes closer, Harlan's visibility is more pronounced, even though he doesn't want it to be. He thinks that the loose sniper will be after Vince more so than him, yet they think the sniper may target his son, Michael instead of Vince.

The sniper does make an appearance at the run and Harlan's shocked as to the identity and goes back to New York in the years that follow and to the loneliness of those he knows who have died of AIDS.

I thought this was an okay sequel since a lot of the characters do return, but it's not without its problems.

At the end of the first book, Betsy and the baby, John William, have moved into Harlan's house on the Prescott College campus. He remodelled it so that they could move in, yet Betsy lives in her own house at the beginning and then buys another house when Harlan tells her that she's a target. It didn't really make any sense.

In The Front Runner, one of Billy's other friends, Jacques, gets married to Elaine. Elaine does appear here, but has a couple of Sybil moments when her name goes from Elaine to Eileen (even on the same page!). And speaking of names, John William's name is changed to Falcon, because he does something that makes him appear to be a falcon.

Harlan's narcissism is still evident throughout since he's a control freak. If it's not done his way, well, you're out of luck I guess. As in the first book, he just comes across as angry and that the world should revolve around him.

Since this is the second in a trilogy, I'm hoping that the last book isn't full of self loathing, but I have a feeling that I won't be able to tolerate Harlan anymore, nor his narcissism.

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