Aaron Bradley: Closet Detective by Timothy Owen

Title: Aaron Bradley: Closet Detective
Author: Timothy Owen
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Mystery
Length: Novel / 260 pages
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

A guest review by Kassa


THE BLURB:

Aaron Bradley is restless. Despite a privileged upbringing, at twenty-seven he still hasn’t figured out who he is or what he wants to do with his life. Then his friend Joe, a successful public prosecutor, asks him for a favor that will change Aaron’s life.

While investigating Joe’s enigmatic girlfriend Candice, Aaron meets Bo, an out-and-proud, easygoing waiter, causing unfamiliar and confusing emotions to flutter to life. Caught up in the middle of Candice’s clandestine activities, with Bo gently nudging him out of the closet along the way, Aaron will have to review everything he thought he knew about himself as he tries to make sense of his feelings for Bo.

THE REVIEW:

Aaron Bradley Closet Detective is a difficult story to review. Parts of it I liked quite a bit and this is an author I eagerly await for more but to be honest, I couldn’t buy into all of the characters and the story. Parts of the story are authentic, interesting, and above all the writing is very engaging and keeps the story interesting. Yet I couldn’t connect with the main characters, who are really the straight couple – Joe and Candice – while I liked Aaron. This is a mixed bag with good writing and a good, solid story that really depends on whether readers can get into the heads of Candice and Joe, and more so like them.

Aaron Bradley is a privileged wealthy orphan who is doing very little with his life. He spends his time doing odd jobs and helping out friends of friends with things like fixing a leaking sink or installing electronics. He’s pretty handy and smart so when his best friend Joe asks him to subtly tail Candice, Joe’s mysterious girlfriend, Aaron reluctantly agrees. He’s not that stealthy and almost immediately he is spotted by a nearby waiter, Bo. Bo strikes up a conversation and Aaron soon finds himself wondering if he’s attracted to a man and what it means. Aaron’s newfound sexuality isn’t the main mystery though. The main suspense comes from Candice’s late night activities that start a chain of events involving everyone and turns dangerous. At the same time, Candice and Joe are really in love and think the other may be “the one” so they must discover what’s more important, doing what’s right or what’s right for you.

The plot is pretty tightly paced and drives the story. Not to give too many spoilers, the main thrust of the book is what Candice is hiding and why. Aaron is brought in initially to tail her but that soon tapers off around halfway through and the rest of the story is about how Joe handles the truth about Candice and what it means for their relationship while Candice makes some life changing decisions of her own. Aaron is almost a peripheral character at this point and Bo is pretty unimportant, which is very sad since Bo is a great character and his chemistry with Aaron is wonderful. I admit I was pretty surprised when the focus of the story slowly turns to Candice and Joe as the main driving force. I had thought that the Candice mystery would be a vehicle for Aaron rather than the main story. In fact the final third is all about Joe and Candice with very little mention of Aaron and Bo.

I have mixed feelings about the strong focus on Candice and Joe. The story is told from numerous third person perspectives, including Candice’s very prominent voice but there are also scenes from Aaron, Joe, and even a minor Bo. On the one hand the writing is really great. The story is engaging and the mystery well crafted with a lot of subtly and interest. There are some leaps – such as the technology – but these are negligible. Aaron as a detective is minor at best and so I was partly frustrated since he’s such an interesting character, along with Bo, but pretty much wasted being in such a small role. I wanted to get back to Aaron’s perspective and have him actually do some amateur detecting rather than the lengthy focus on Candice’s motives and actions.

The flip side to this is that Candice in particular is a strong, well developed character with a lot of hidden depth. She is perhaps the best characterized of the cast with Aaron as a close second. Since the focus is so strongly on her, the story spends a lot of time looking at her background, her thoughts, her motivations, and her actions. What bothers me is that despite all this set up I can’t quite understand why Joe, Bo, and Aaron are so enamored of her. She’s a good lead character and holds the story well but since the men pale in comparison, I can’t quite understand the strong connection they each have with her, thus I never really bought into the various justifications and excuses. Joe keeps saying how in love he is with Candice and I can’t help but think “why?” most of the time. Ultimately, I didn’t like the character of Candice, mostly due to how the men act around her and make excuses for her and not because she’s a strong female in what is supposedly a m/m romantic suspense. I got annoyed with both Joe and Aaron several times for justifying Candice’s behavior and supposedly all of this is ok because really it’s not about right or wrong. Except, well in this case it is so I find the insistence on both the story and the men making everything ok with Candice frustrating.

Now there is a romance between Aaron and Bo (they have the only on page sex though it’s tame) but again this feels very minor. Aaron is a fun character with a lot of possibility and if there are any more in the series, perhaps a book focusing more on his relationship with Bo and another mystery, I’d be interested in reading it. Aaron’s struggle with his sexuality is easy but nice. He never really explored his sexuality until finding someone he has instant and charged chemistry with. Once Aaron meets Bo, he understands why people are so excited about sex and their gradual romance is interesting and engaging. There is a weird philosophical conversation they have halfway through the story that feels like a preaching lecture about the gay perspective and place in the world but other than that, their relationship and Aaron’s awakening is nicely done.

This story is an interesting mix of mystery and romance and I think it’ll appeal to mystery fans the most. The romance between Aaron and Bo is not the focus so romance fans may be disappointed whereas mystery fans may enjoy the action and reaction plot a lot more. The focus on a straight couple, Joe and Candice, didn’t bother me but I disliked Candice more and more as the story went on so and was frustrated with the men and their weak arguments. This definitely affected my enjoyment negatively. If this is the start of a series with more stories about Aaron, then I look forward to the next one. The writing really drew me in from the start and the engaging prose had me rooting for the story despite the issues. Aaron’s chemistry and interactions with Bo are adorable and I liked reading about them together. Joe is a good best friend and makes a good contrasting character with his own issues that make him stand out and has promise, despite his easy excuses for bad behavior.

I’m curious to see what others think about it as it’s definitely not a typical story for this genre or publisher.

14 comments

  • Hi, Kassa – Agreed with most of your review, although maybe I liked the book better than you did. I was struck by the contemporary urban South Africa setting, since I can’t think of any recent, urban novel I’ve read set there. As a mystery, it worked well.

    I appreciate that DSP is publishing a wide range of M/M, including where the focus is mystery with an m/m romance subplot. I’m hoping for a sequel, with ongoing Aaron and Bo and even some Joe, since it’s a nice change for the straight best friend NOT to be the love interest leading into a GFY plot.

  • Thank God I just read this review….I order this book but have now cancelled it, thanks for your review.

  • OMG you nailed it again Kassa. I am almost done with this one and while I would have given it four stars for the strong writing and IMO consistent characterizations (mostly anyway), I am so so so tired of being in Candice’s head. I am tired mostly not because she is a woman (I have no problems with women being present in gay fiction without them to me it sometimes feels that our characters sometimes lead some sort of artificial life that author created lol), but because she is so damn unlikeable.

    And then, I guess this one you nailed too and this is why I would have given it four stars instead of five, I found the excuses men came up for her to be very very silly, like all the time. This for me took something away from integrity of Aaron and Bo’s characters.

    And while this would contradict what I said above somewhat, while I have no problem with women being present, sorry, but I want more time to spend with guys than I got to in this book.

    Great review Kassa.

    • Thanks! It’s always nice to hear that someone saw the same thing, especially here. I think the writing is really excellent and the author as a whole impressed me. I’m glad though (really glad) that I’m not the only one that had an issue with the girl. You also bring up an excellent point that all the excuses really does hurt the integrity of the other characters.

      I don’t mind the girl as you said, there are women in m/m, it’s not a vacuum. But I didn’t like -this- particular girl and it’s comforting to know I’m not alone in that one.

      Maybe we’ll get lucky and the next book in the series will feature more of Aaron and Bo. The scene where they were sitting on the couch with their legs entwined .. so fun.

      • I think the character of Candice is more complex than anybody is giving the author credit for. I am a psychologist and can tell you that Candice has a Borderline Personality Disorder – which means she has enormous power over people because she manipulates and lies, and does it so convincingly that nobody would readily believe it – not even herself.

        I think the way the author has done it, making the characters in the book fall for her lies, and yet making it clear to the readers what she is doing shows enormous skill. I liked it.

        • Hi Dinky,

          Interesting analysis. I’m not sure I saw that in the character (I’m no trained psychologist) so you could be right. Even so that probably wouldn’t change my impression of the character. I get what you’re saying and how you think the author crafted the character, but I just don’t personally see it. I think Candice is the best character of the group, I’ve said that in the review, but I still didn’t -like- her nor did I like to read about her.

          I think the author crafted a great character just not one to my liking unfortunately. I’m glad you enjoyed it though as the author is really onto something.

  • Hi Kassa

    As usual you get to the heart of the story.

    My first question would be why would an M/M publisher publish a story that has very little interaction between the two male, supposedly gay characters, with 2/3 of the book focused on a straight couple. If I want to read a mystery starring a straight couple I would look for it in the mystery section of my online bookseller, not DSP.

    The blurb is definitely misleading. I was looking forward to reading this book but I think I’ll pass – first b/c of the strong emphasis on this Candice character which is not likable, and very little interaction between Bo and Aaron. This is definitely not what I was expecting.

    Also, I get the impression that the author probably read a travel brochure about South Africa rather than researching the country in depth.

    • As for the setting, I think the author actually lives there (south africa) and is really quite knowledgeable. I just kept forgetting it was set there once the initial descriptions were out of the way. He does give good background about the area and the cities and suburbs so he clearly knows what he’s talking about.

      I think the story is erroneous labeled and that may be dangerous. It’s not a bad book at all but it’s one of many coming out of DSP lately that do not fit their tag line “m/m romance” at all. Not to say the stories are bad, because they’re not but DSP prides itself on offering quality m/m erotic romance and they have quite a few titles that have nothing to do with that. This is one. Billionaire’s Row is another. I think if anything this is confusing their customer base who have come to expect certain things from DSP that aren’t delivered on all stories so it makes it hard to choose when you can’t trust a publisher.

      • Kassa
        I misunderstood about the location – sorry. However, I still would be upset if I were to buy the book and find out that the main character is the woman. This is a mystery supposedly starring two gay characters, so unless she’s a dead body I think the blurb is misleading.

        Maybe DSP is moving in another direction.

  • Great review Kassa. So I guess you’d catagorize this as more of a mystery with some gay characters then? I’m okay with that, so this one would be doable for me. I would struggle with an unlikable main character ie Candice.

    • That’s probably accurate TJ. It’s a mystery with some straight characters, some gay characters, a splash of romance, and intrigue. It’s tough to dislike a main character but I liked the writing and supporting characters so kind of a toss up.

  • I won this and was thinking about starting it. I couldn’t remember what it was about so went to Good Reads to check out the blurb and I see the author made a comment that it’s a mystery and not an erotic romance although that’s how it’s tagged somewhere so if you’re looking for smexin’ it’s not the book for you.

    I see it’s set in South Africa which is unique. I’m sure I’ll get to it as I like a mystery, most people who commented though mentioned the unlikable female character.

    • Right Tam, it’s not an erotic romance and I’d hesitate to really call it a romance though it has enough that you can’t call it a pure mystery either.

      It is set in South Africa but unfortunately other than that statement, I didn’t feel the setting was really unique. There weren’t any influences or details that kept this in mind and it felt like pretty much any other suburb in America most of the time. I forgot it was in SA when I was writing the review.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: