Friday, May 6, 2016

Dead Ringer

Heidi Belleau & Sam Schooler
Riptide Publishing
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy


Brandon Ringer has a dead man’s face. His grandfather, silver-screen heartthrob James Ringer, died tragically at twenty-one, and Brandon looks exactly like him. But that’s where the resemblance ends. Brandon is unknown, unemployed, and up to his ears in bills after inheriting his grandparents’ Hollywood mansion. He refuses to sell it—it’s his last connection to his grandmother—so to raise the cash he needs, he joins a celebrity look-alike escort agency.

Percy Charles is chronically ill, isolated, and lonely. His only company is his meddlesome caregiver and his collection of James Ringer memorabilia. When he finds “Jim Ringer” on Hollywood Doubles’ website, he books an appointment, hoping to meet someone who shares his passion for his idol.

Brandon? Not that person.

But despite their differences, they connect, and Percy’s fanboy love for James shows Brandon a side of his grandfather he never knew. Soon they want time together off the clock, but Percy is losing his battle for independence, and Brandon feels trapped in James’s long shadow. Their struggle to love each other is the stuff of classic Hollywood. Too bad Brandon knows how those stories end.

My Review

After reading the excellent Bump in the Night, I was excited to read another collaboration by Heidi Belleau and Sam Schooler.

Rent boy stories are one of my guilty pleasures, but Dead Ringer is really so much more. Even though the ending was predictable, the characters popped right off the page, the plot was captivating, and the characters’ struggles and joys were explored with a great deal of thoughtfulness and sensitivity.

After his grandmother’s death, Brandon Ringer inherits her mansion, along with a basement full of his famous grandfather’s memorabilia that he’s uncomfortable with and wants to sell. Selling all this stuff would help Brandon with his financial troubles and enable him to maintain the huge house, but he has conflicting feelings and an as yet unexplored connection with his grandfather.

The stories he knows about his grandfather, passed along by other family members, are less than positive. Brandon is resentful towards him for the shabby way he treated his grandmother, but is forever stuck with his likeness.

So rather than selling James Ringer’s precious possessions, Brandon decides to make money in a way he’s familiar with. Exploiting his grandfather’s fame and good looks, he joins an escort service called Hollywood Doubles. Brandon learns early on that physical similarities are not enough to convince his clients that he is an authentic double. Thanks to a supportive boss (a Marilyn Monroe double), Brandon eventually learns to embrace his role while retaining his identity and believing in himself. While learning all he can about his grandfather’s life from studying, through his clients, and most importantly, from his newfound relationship with Percy, a young man suffering from juvenile arthritis and dependent on a cruel nurse and his distant parents, as well as being a rabid fan of James Ringer, Brandon discovers buried truths and complexities about his character that show him in a different light.

I felt the portrayal of Percy’s disability was accurate and respectful, as well as the adjustments Brandon and Percy had to make to ensure his comfort while making love. I appreciate that the authors didn’t make Percy a victim despite his health issues and family situation.

Discovering the real James Ringer along with Brandon, and Percy’s struggle for independence were the best parts of the story for me. While I felt the chemistry between both men, their declarations of love felt very premature and the quick resolution of problems and dangling loose ends left me feeling unconvinced. The Hollywood ending was rushed and overly sweet, but didn’t detract too much from my overall enjoyment of this story.

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