Title: Waves of Fortune
Author: Carolyn LeVine Topol
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary/Murder Mystery
Length: Novel (240 pages)
Rating: 1 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
Jim Barton, a former hustler trying to escape a painful past, meets Greg Abel at a private Caribbean island resort. Despite significant differences in their ages and family backgrounds—Greg is heir to a technology fortune—sexual attraction draws them to one another and they become lovers. But those differences aren’t the only problem when they discover Greg’s older brother has been murdered.
While Jim and Greg agree they are destined to be together, Jim wonders whether love truly exists, and Greg refuses to give himself completely until his brother’s murderer is discovered. They devise a way to flush out the killer, but when the plan goes wrong, it doesn’t just mean the killer may go free—it might destroy Jim and Greg’s future.
Waves of Fortune, which I was looking forward to because of the Paul Richmond cover art and the blurb that interested me, is the first book by Carolyn Topol that I’ve read, and her second published novel (Veiled Security is reviewed here by Kassa). This is also the second DSP offering in a month that has been a total failure for me — and another which would have been a DNF had it not been for this review — which leads me to wonder what is going on at the publisher to allow books like these to see the light of day. If you are looking for a well-written story with three-dimensional characters, this is not the book for you.
Ex-rent boy Jim is a waiter at the Ile de Bonne Chance resort in the Caribbean where he has been watching a handsome, older mystery man on a beautiful yacht through binoculars for a while now. The man never comes ashore and Jim is left to dream from afar. A hurricane forces the yacht — and its owner — back and into the resort, allowing Jim to finally meet his “fantasy hunk,” Greg. Greg, who is mourning the recent loss of his brother, is owner of a large technology company and sole heir now that his brother is deceased. Jim and Greg have an immediate attraction and fall in love, but when Greg finds out his brother was murdered, he decides that they cannot go all the way until the murderer is caught. Enter into the picture the grieving widow, her and Greg’s attorney, detectives investigating the murder, the yacht’s crew, resort staff and others, and the plot just thickens.
I had a very hard time both reading and reviewing this book, which I read twice (per my usual process for review, though I admit that part of it was to see if I was being unfairly critical in my assessment). I made it through the prologue and first chapter fine, but then it went downhill very quickly and steadily from there. Part of that — a big part — was I couldn’t decide if it was supposed to be a serious novel or a daytime soap opera satire, something that simply isn’t good (the author makes several references to soaps, so I still don’t know for sure). In fact, there is such a soap opera feel that there were times as I was reading where I could hear the cheesy music they play during, say, an overly-dramatic reveal or an emotional plea. Additionally, the writing felt very amateurish to me with oftentimes ridiculous dialog and purple prose:
Jim’s breathing was labored as Greg stood and removed his pants. Jim licked his lips, admiring the bulbous cock darkened with desire. His tanned, muscular body glistened in the sliver of moonlight that shone across the room. The older man pulled off Jim’s sweatpants, exposing his dick filled with need.
Also making it difficult to enjoy the story is the sheer number of different POVs: eleven. It was hard to concentrate on any part of the story as it shifted around to various characters and several sub-plots involving the murder, drugs, trying to get each other into bed, a baby, everyone getting their due, and the supposed romance of the protags. Over-the-top melodramatics (She slammed her fist against the door. “Damn you, Sidney. And damn you, Greg, come back to me! I’m not ready to be alone.” and “If you want to come back to New York City and possibly watch me go to jail for a crime I didn’t commit, then do it, damn it, do it! But I won’t have you thinking I don’t want you—never again.”) added to the difficulty of taking the book seriously, making for more eye-rolling moments than I could count.
There is little character development beyond the Jim-is-an-ex-hustler and Greg-is-an-old-grieving-heir who have sexual attraction and fall into insta-love, making both protags one-dimensional at best. After a while, I got weary of hearing both men complain about their issues (either in their heads or out loud: Jim is a poor, former rent boy; Greg is old and sad because his brother is dead) and/or talk about how much they love each other.
All of the secondary cast are stereotypical caricatures and clichés, and not one of them is likable. The female characters are bitchy, scheming harpies and the men all just faded into the background for me. Add to that a few of the characters have unexplained personality transplants and I simply didn’t invest myself in any one of them.
Insta-love runs rampant here, with Jim and Greg committed to each other in less than forty-eight hours. Also, Jim, who has — by his own admission — been with possibly thousands of men, claims after four days and five rounds of tame smexxin by my count:
Jim sighed. “I know you don’t believe it, but you really are better than anyone I’ve ever been with”—he lowered his voice to barely a whisper— “and we haven’t even fucked yet. You know it’s more than that, don’t you?”
Something that is mentioned in the blurb is that Greg “refuses to give himself completely [i.e. won’t have anal intercourse] until his brother’s murderer is discovered,” but the reasoning is so lame and odd that it was unbelievable to me. And apparently one way of dealing with stress for Jim and Greg is to drop everything and have sex in some form, with touching and kissing at inappropriate times — like in the middle of a police investigation. In fact, their sex life was often inconvenienced by the investigation:
Jim held his cheek to Greg’s and began to nibble his earlobe, feeling his arousal at the mere thought of connecting with his lover and facing this bizarre journey together. Leaning back, Jim’s desire guided him to Greg’s lips. Their kisses became more urgent. Jim felt himself wanting to break through the confines of his clothing, wanting Greg’s hand wrapped around his needy cock.
“Ahem.” Kathy walked into the suite, holding a box with an insignia of the NYPD on the lid.
Finally, to make it though, I had to completely suspend my disbelief. I won’t go into details in order to avoid spoilers, but in every aspect of the story — from the way various characters act around the storm to what some of the characters said throughout to especially the police procedurals and the way the detectives behaved — had me gritting my teeth and I had to wonder if the author researched this book at all before writing it. Regarding the telegraphed reveal, by the time I guessed what was going on, I didn’t care enough about the story or the characters to be bothered.
From cheesy dialog to under-developed characters to situations and character actions that more than tested my disbelief suspension abilities, this book was a total miss for me. As always, I am only one reader and opinion.