It is no secret I like this author’s work. Brandon Witt’s voice is unique, often funny, and yet poignant and emotional when needed, which really adds a lovely quality to his dialogue portions. His characters are so accessible to the reader because they are truly your average Joe, with the same problems and insecurities your best friend might have. Having said that I really like this series. It is sweet and even the bar itself becomes an important character and that is critical point to the story line as Hamburger Mary’s is not just a place but an oasis, a home to so many.
So first, while you might be able to pick this one up as a standalone, I really feel that Vodka & Handcuffs, the second in the Mary’s Boys series, is best read after the first, Nachos & Hash. The other warning I want to put here is not to expect some kinky romp as you might from the title of the novella. Rather, this is a fairly intense story—one that deals with many of the political and social problems we are facing today under the current administration. That’s not to say that this is some rant on how terrible the political climate currently is, but it’s most definitely a book that deals with real life issues that are not always pretty, funny, or easily solved.
Marlon is a cop and a black one at that—tack on the fact that he is gay and not out to most of the force and you have one very tightly wound man who takes his job very seriously, but knows he must work just that much harder than his white, straight counterparts. His chief, also a man of color, depends on him to be partnered with the worst of them all—a spoiled, privileged, racist cop who has a senator for a relative and knows he essentially cannot be touched unless he screws up big time, which he is way too conniving to do. If all that weren’t enough, whom does Marlon start to fall for but a Muslim man named Vahin who happens to be the bartender at Hamburger Mary’s. For most of this story it is truly uncertain if Marlon and Vahin can really make a go of it and it’s not until the end that we know for certain how the relationship will fare between these two guys. Before then, Marlon will be cruelly outed, Vahin will be unjustly charged with a crime he was duped into being a part of, and both men will discover just how important their family (whether it be the crew at Hamburger Mary’s or the police chief) really are in helping both guys navigate the hate and racist homophobia that surrounds them.
To give you much more backstory would be to give way too much of this book away and I definitely feel it is well worth the adventure of reading it on your own. Yes, there are times when this novella can feel almost bleak in its outlook, but I did feel that a connection, real and solid, was made between Marlon and Vahin and that it was this beginning that held these two men together when their worlds were falling apart. Realism in romance is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I cannot find fault with this author putting his heart on the page as I think he has in this particular installment.
Marlon and Vahin are a microcosm, a glimpse, if you will, into what I see and read about every day when the gay community comments on their fears about the current health of LGBT rights. But before you think this novella is only a thinly masked political commentary wrapped up in a romance, think again. There is a true sense of community that surrounds these two men and the story allows for us to see that in action—there is hope for a future that may be just a bit easier—safer than it was before. Is the ending too quick and too easily resolved? Yes, I would say that this is the only real flaw with this story, but again, the buildup to there was fraught with so much reality that we needed that happier ending to really inspire hope for a better tomorrow for these guys.
Vodka & Handcuffs by Brandon Witt is a strong story that allows for suffering, but also gives hope and puts forth the idea that justice can be found for those marginalized into today’s society. There are real moments of sweet, lighthearted love play between the main characters and a resiliency found in both men that is fed by a community determined to stand up for its own.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.