Title: Aaron Bradley: Closet Detective
Author: Timothy Owen
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: Novel / 260 pages
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
A guest review by Kassa
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.
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.