Rating: 4.5 stars
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Eddie Roscoe has just arrived at his family’s diner to open up and start preparing for the breakfast run when he sees a young boy and a drunk fighting in the back alley. After breaking it up, Eddie notices the kid’s bruises and other injuries aren’t exactly fresh. And from the backpack the kid was fighting over and the state of the clothes the boy was wearing, Eddie can tell the kid is homeless. An offer of breakfast and a job brings young Tom into Eddie and his mother’s home and their family. But it’s another side of Eddie’s life that will bring a measure of safety to Tom, as well as bring an old friend back into Eddie’s life.
Eddie Roscoe and Danny Bannon have loved and fought for over 15 years. But a shared trauma and the resulting guilt has kept them apart and sabotaged every effort they make to reunite. Now the arrival of Tom Delaney, a teenage runaway, will be the spark that brings them back together and unites them in a common cause, that of keeping Tom safe while training him to be a mixed martial arts fighter.
Tom is young, angry, and hurt. And he has aspects of his past life that he is keeping hidden from those trying to help him, namely Eddie, Danny, and Gloria, Eddie’s mother. And when his past, in the form of his abusive father, tracks him down, it will take everyone around him to keep him safe and out of jail.
Black Dog is an emotionally gripping story, one that kept me awake in the wee morning hours until I had finished it. And that emotional connection is due to Cat Grant’s damaged and vulnerable characters and the situation they find themselves in. The people she created for Black Dog (and the series) are easy to connect with and they engage our sympathies immediately. First of all, we meet Eddie arriving in his old Ford 150 pickup to open the diner his grandfather started and he now owns with his mother. The scene is vivid, so much so we can almost hear his footsteps sloshing through the puddles of water on the asphalt outside the diner. Grant sets not only the tone for the characters in her settings, but for the rest of the story as well. A slightly run down family diner in a neighborhood that has seen better days, its interior still proclaims its ’50s origin. And Gloria, Eddie’s constantly smoking mother is recognizable to all who have visited establishments like these. I absolutely love the character of Gloria Roscoe and some of the finest scenes in this book happen in her presence.
Eddie and Danny are also realistic characters. Their combined past contains a traumatic event that neither man has dealt with. It has destroyed their relationship as friends and lovers. And neither man knows how to get that back or get past the accident that has twisted their lives and emotions. It’s powerful stuff and Grant delivers their pain and angst to the reader with authenticity and detailed scenes that will resonate with the reader. Here is a scene from the beginning, with Tom and Eddie at the diner after the fight:
Tom nudged his plate away and burped. Two spots of bright pink popped high on his cheeks. “That was really good. What can I do to pay for it?”
“It’s on the house.”
His eyes widened. “Seriously? I can’t even sweep up or do dishes or something?”
I pulled a quart of waffle batter out of the old green Frigidaire and swung around to study him. Reminded me of me at his age, all quiet intensity with a streak of sheer panic beneath the surface. Just like any other kid forced to strike out on his own. One thing was clear: he came from money. St. Pat’s wasn’t cheap, and nobody got straight white teeth like his without a few years in braces. From the way he spoke, he was no dummy. What was a kid like him doing living on the street?
Maybe I wasn’t born rich, but I knew what he was feeling. That hollowed-out ache inside, the panic and fear of seeing every new person as a potential threat. Where would I be now if no one had offered me a helping hand? And no, one lousy meal didn’t count.
“Leave your stuff in back,” I said. “There’s a broom and an extra apron in the closet. Start with the pantry. It’s a mess in there.”
“Okay.” He sprang up and headed in back, brushing past Gloria, who’d just come up to grab a stack of paper napkins. Her gaze followed him through the swinging doors.
“You sure that’s a good idea?” That was what she always said. And if the bemused tilt of her head was any clue, she knew she wasn’t about to dissuade me.
“If you want to clean up back there, have at it.”
“You and your charity cases,” she said, coughing out a raspy Marlboro laugh and planting a kiss on my cheek.
I’d caught something else in the kid’s eyes too. Frustration, determination, anger. Whatever mixture of emotions that spurred him to deal that drunk a beat down. He’d acted pretty matter of fact about his scrapes and bruises, but those other marks on his face . . . well, he hadn’t gotten them walking into a door.
That is such a telling scene, revealing so much about all the characters involved from Gloria and her ever present cigarettes to the fear in Tom’s eyes. It remarkable and it hooks the reader in emotionally from the start. We care for these people and we need to know what will happen next.
Black Dog is the first in the Bannon’s Gym series and I hope that these people will form the core of the series as Tom fights his way to the top of the MMA profession. The author makes the gym and those learning to fight there accessible to the reader. We learn about MMA and the fight training methodology common to the mixed martial arts. There is a lot of leeway with a gym as a setting and I can’t wait to see how Grant develops this series.
I will admit that I came close to giving this story 5 stars but several aspects prevented that. The first being a POV that is constantly switching narrators. I wish Grant has stuck to just Eddie’s POV. He has a singular voice that rendered an intimacy to the narrative that is lost when the POV switches to another character or third person. If the story and characters had not been as great as they were, this unevenness in style would have brought the rating down even further. And the other is an awkward sentence that signals the end of the story. The scene itself works, but it needed a little more, whether it was dialog or action, to feel complete. Still I felt happy at the end and ready for more. More of Danny, Eddie, Tom, and Gloria, and more of Bannon’s gym.
So yes, I highly recommend this story. Go grab it up and get reading. I have added Cat Grant to my must have authors list. I think after this book you will be doing the same.