Rating: 3 stars
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Life has not been easy for Todd Burton. He lives in a small town: Buckman, Missouri. His father died when he was young and his mother remarried an abusive man who makes Todd’s life miserable in every way possible, including calling him a “fag.” All Todd has ever wanted was to be a chef, but his dream and small efforts are ridiculed by mother and stepfather alike. One night, the taunts and abuse become too much, and Todd flees his home and town, running away to Kansas City to pursue his dream of being a chef. But the reality of life in Kansas City is a harsh one and soon Todd is left out in the cold, evicted from his apartment with no where to turn.
Gabe Richards, a wealthy businessman, finds Todd outside his apartment building freezing to death. The sight of the young man brings back memories that Gabe thought he had buried. He offers Todd a place to spend the night and food to eat and, as the men get to know one another, the night becomes a week, and then more. But the situation is fraught with tension and awkwardness. Todd has always assumed he was straight, so why is he checking out Gabe like he would a girl? Could he actually be gay? And for Gabe, Todd brings up memories of another young man in Gabe’s past, one associated with pain and betrayal.
Gabe and Todd find themselves falling in love despite their pasts. For Todd, being evicted and coming in from the cold might be the best thing that ever happened to him.
I have some very mixed feelings about this story because I really liked parts of it. B.G. Thomas has a lovely writing style and his characters, specifically, Todd Burton and Peter Wagner, a friend and employer of Gabe’s, are fantastic. Todd is someone with whom we could empathize immediately. Even when he is using offensive words like “fag,” we know it’s because those words have been thrown at and around him all his life. It’s a knee jerk reaction, especially in someone questioning his true sexuality. I have to admit having to suspend some belief in Todd’s miraculous culinary skills though. Given his background, would someone like Todd really know what to do with fennel or taste white pepper in wine? But as I love a cooking element in a story, I can accept his interest and gift in putting flavors together to create something wonderful. Todd’s questioning of his sexuality is another terrific aspect of this story, although his leap into bed with Gabe as well as his embrace of his “gayness” came a little too fast for someone who just found out that they were gay. But again, I can accept that too because Thomas made it seem realistic.
Peter Wagner, vaguely British, kind and over the top, is perhaps my favorite character, Think Peter O’Toole in My Favorite Year and you have some approximation of Peter Wagner. I loved him and every scene he appeared in. Thomas must have a real fondness for him too because his descriptions of Wagner and his actions are vivid, almost Technicolor, trying hard to express the heart and vitality of this man. Here is a sample of Peter at his best:
“Yes,” Peter decreed. “Sexily aromatic, like linen sheets after making love on an island in Greece.” Peter took another sip. “It is superb. And now if I might?” Peter lifted a fork as if it were a conductor’s baton, then a knife, cut into the thigh Todd had placed on his plate and sliced it quickly and masterfully. He brought the morsel to his mouth, stopped, inhaled. Then popped it into his mouth.
Todd held his breath.
A corner of Peter’s mouth slowly tipped upward. He opened his eyes. “Heaven,” he whispered.
Todd felt a rush. He had no idea why. He had no idea who this strange man was with his flourishes and declarations, his nimble swagger, and the graceful way he moved his hands and arms and lanky body. Yet, the compliment Peter had given him might have been the best in his entire life.
And we get that because Peter has become so real to us as well that we understand the sentiments involved. Great job, great characters indeed.
Gabe Richards is a little more problematic for me. It is with him and an event and people in his past that I have my issues. Gabe is described as a successful businessman with a painful past that both Peter and Gabe’s friend/assistant are aware of. This past involves a young man who had been sexually abused by his father for years and was living on the streets when Gabe found him. This character and his situation are the dramatic fulcrum upon which Gabe’s past angst pivots. And this is the element that dragged the story down for me.
It’s my opinion that if an author uses rape or sexual abuse as an element in their story, they have a responsibility to treat it as seriously and realistically as the topic deserves. This includes having the adult characters suggest counseling and police action for sexual abuse/rape, especially in underaged victims like those involved in this storyline. The fact that this is fiction does not reduce that responsibility for the author. But when an abused, underage young man is instead “adopted” as a son, calls the men who adopted him “Daddy One” and “Daddy Two,” and is then looked at as a possible bedmate by both of them, then the subsequent story is undermined for me. That this young man is then also portrayed not as a victim, but instigator of a painful event, then that aspect of the story becomes an object of disbelief. For that element to have been realistically portrayed, the author should have gone into the ramifications of parental sexual abuse, including perhaps the need for validation by a father figure and other long term aspects of paternal sexual abuse, especially if untreated. I am aware that this is only a part of Thomas’ story, but it is still a small but important one. The author could have left this element out all together and chosen to make this a shallow opportunistic young man. If Thomas had, this would have been an altogether different review. As it is, it reduced the rating almost to a 2.
Outside of the sexual abuse section, this story also contains a case of “instant love,” something I am seeing a lot of these days. Gabe and Todd have one week together, during which time Todd not only comes to grips with his sexuality, but also falls in love with Gabe, who very conveniently falls in love back. Sigh. Gabe’s past “homelessness” really isn’t, as he left his apartment for the night. So not the same as Todd. Again, a suspension of belief is called for. The author then wraps up all the loose story lines in a manner that seems a little pat. Again, while I could accept most of them, the plot with the young sexually abused man is handled just as badly as was the character’s introduction. He runs off to confront his father by himself. No police involved, no one helping him because “he has to do it by himself.” And the last chance to redeem this plot element is lost.
Why give this story a three rating? I had to ask myself that question too. I did love parts of The Boy Who Came In From The Cold. I loved some of the characters and plot points. The parts that bothered me about the story are, in my opinion, hugely relevant, enough so to drag an otherwise charming story downward. So the writing and some of the characters saved this story for me enough to give it a 3-star rating. For other readers, maybe they will skim over those sections that bothered me or it won’t be so obvious as to be an issue for them. You can make up your own mind.
Cover art by Aaron Anderson is lovely except (and I can’t believe I am saying this) but the model is a little too old for the character of Todd. Usually it is the other way around. But the graphics and overall feel is lovely.