Title: Mixed Signals
Author: Cooper West
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: M/M contemporary romance
Length: 222 pages
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
An entertaining story with a couple of mis-matched heroes left me feeling a little unsatisfied.
Frank Sheldon is trying (not very hard) to put his life back together several years after his dishonorable discharge from the military for “conduct unbecoming.” The handsome son of a wealthy businessman, he’s doing his best to avoid family obligations when he meets eccentric programmer Benjamin Kaplan. Frank is interested, but unlike most people Frank’s ever met, Benjamin isn’t swayed by his name or good looks. Or is he?
As Frank gets dragged into the drama of his sister’s political campaign, he manages to pursue Benjamin under the guise of funding Benjamin’s video game start-up. But unknown to Frank, Benjamin runs a mysterious muckraking news site, and when the now-involved Benjamin takes steps to back down his coverage of Frank’s sister’s campaign, everything starts to unravel. Frank wonders if Benjamin was just using him all along, and Benjamin assumes that Frank wants nothing to do with him. Will the mixed signals break them apart?
I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of Cooper West shorts and so when I saw this novella at DSP, I jumped at a chance to review a longer piece by this author.
The story begins really well. Frank is everything a man would desire for himself. He’s rich, attractive and has everyone falling over their feet to be with him. Unfortunately for Frank this also means that he pretty much can’t trust anyone to deal with him as a normal person. The only time he felt he could be himself was in his job in the military as a pilot, but that ended in a dishonourable discharge. When visiting the hairdressers, Frank meets the brother of one of the stylists, Benjamin. Benjamin is a pudgy geek with a less than charming personality and Frank finds himself drawn to the man.
I really loved the start of this story for a number of reasons. Firstly, Frank is your stereotypical hero with dashing good looks and charm, but the author turned that around by showing how tedious that is for Frank. Secondly, I loved the fact that Benjamin is immune to all that, not because he doesn’t see Frank’s good looks but rather he knows that Frank is so far removed from the sort of guy who would look twice at him, so Benjamin chooses just to ignore Frank. Of course, as in the tradition of romance, this piques Frank’s interest and so the journey begins! I also liked that Benjamin is a bit, well, soft around the middle. This is something that we are told early on and comes up a couple of times in the book but not so much that it belabours the point. It’s especially great that ‘soft’ is something that Frank finds particularly attractive in men and so makes the whole initial interest in Benjamin all the more realistic. Benjamin’s prickly personality was also something that I liked. It meant that Frank really had to work hard to get past the barriers that Benjamin has put up around him and I enjoyed watching that happen in the story.
After a good start, the story gets under way and I was enjoying myself a great deal. The story was interesting and skipped along at a good pace. The introduction of the complication involving Frank’s family was handled well and I particularly liked Frank’s father and the way he perceives the relationship between the heroes. There was a gentle humour to the story which I also found very appealing. It was a little unfortunate then when the story ended so suddenly with an epilogue which told us all the interesting plot that we could have seen happen in the story. There had been such a lovely set-up and although the romance of the story had been pretty much resolved by the end, the major complication still had a lot of mileage in it. I felt a little cheated to be honest.
This rushed ending was also an indication of some of the other things in the story which could have been expanded upon. I wanted to know more about Frank’s ‘dishonourable discharge’, more about the business that Frank and Benjamin set up together and more about them as a couple. It seemed such a shame to provide us with such excellent characters and then not give them the space to develop.
So whilst I loved these characters and found the story amusing and interesting, I was left wanting a whole lot more. This story is still appealing and there was much to like in the characterisation and the romance plot so maybe there will be readers out there who won’t be as bothered about the lack of detail and the sudden ending as I was.