Story Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: Michael Kipiniak
Length: 12 hours, 46 minutes
This is a gritty, unexpected romance between a 41-year-old, divorced, recovering alcoholic and the 38-year-old millionaire hedgefund manager who hires him as a personal bodyguard.
Ruben Oso has moved from Miami to NYC to work for his younger brother’s security company. He’s a guy “who can pick a fight with his face,” while Andy Bauer’s blue-grey flannel eyes seem to see right through all his BS. I loved the story, which involves a dubious mystery with Andy, his apartment, and his assistant seemingly the target of unconfirmed assaults by unverifiable assailants.
We stay in Ruben’s head the whole time. He’s rough, he’s been kicked six too many times, and he’s reluctantly building a bond with Andy the more time they spend enclosed in Andy’s glassed-in penthouse duplex. I’m not happy about the “audiobook” cover, as it trimmed the vital piece of the image: Ruben in the 33rd Floor outdoor pool. This may seem silly, but the location is a refuge for Ruben, and the site from which he recognizes that Andy isn’t lying about the danger he’s reported.
The writing is, as I’ve found with all Damon’s books, aggressive, masculine, and unpretentious. His characters always leap off the page in stark tones, and the narrator’s gravely voice and hoarse dialogue convey a grit and grime character study in Ruben. Ruben, who knows the price of everything and the value of little. He’s conflicted, and frightened, about the regard he’s developing for Andy, and how that compromises himself as a bodyguard. Andy won’t let Ruben quit, despite his best efforts. Andy hired him, originally, to be a fall guy for the men he knows are set to attack him, but he soon can’t stay away from Ruben and relishes in more and more close contact—through jogs in Central Park or nights out at strip clubs with Andy’s clients. Andy wants Ruben by his side, and he’s able to convince Ruben to indulge in the chemistry they’re experiencing. Andy had always identified as straight, as did Ruben, but their close quarters and deep connection leads to experimentation, and well, lots of what Ruben calls “sauce.” He spills some of that with Andy, and some more at night while dreaming of his boss’ blue-grey flannel eyes.
Ruben’s confusion over his growing attraction to Andy is complicated by his status as a recovering alcoholic. His struggle to stay sober is rendered in living color by the story and the narrator. The descriptions are blunt, graphic, and engaging, enough so that I listened to the book nearly three full times. I loved Peach, Ruben’s geriatric AA sponsor, and the few secondary characters. This story is really Ruben/Andy centered and the scenes are intense. Ruben’s constant watchfulness and uncertainty regarding Andy’s situation kept me interested in the beginning while they developed their bond. The sexytimes are interesting, and I liked how there was a tentative progression toward physicality. This is a fun and interesting listen, with distinct voices and a suspenseful story. It was kinda silly at the end, once Andy fully-revealed who’d been his attacker—but only because that relationship was such a strange dynamic, to me. That said, I loved how Ruben and Andy came out, and how they made each other stronger people.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.