People will do all sorts of things for the one they (think they) love. Eric, for example, used his position as a foodie reviewer for one of Portland’s top restaurant magazines to help his restaurateur boyfriend out. When their relationship turns sour, however, Eric finally realizes just how manipulative his ex was. There is no room in the world of publishing for that kind of abuse of power. That point is driven home when Eric’s niece takes them to the very restaurant Eric had so publicly trashed. The horrible things Eric wrote in the review bear zero resemblance to the charming, authentic Irish pub serving food so delicious, Eric is burning with shame. Never mind the attractive owner is also the pub’s incredibly talented chef—who, as Eric quickly learns, was feeling feeling every harsh word of Eric’s bogus critique.
Shipping the family pub from Ireland to Portland was no small feat. Colm sunk everything he had into bringing a bit of Ireland to the Pacific Northwest. While he didn’t expect starting anew in America would be easy, Colm never imagined how one unfathomably unjustified bad review would stunt his restaurant dreams. Every day is a struggle and it’s getting to the point where Colm is having to consider the most unpleasant course of action: closing up shop. The one bright spot is an attractive customer who visited the restaurant with his niece—someone who shares Colm’s passion for food and music, and who makes Colm feel comfortable. This man gives Colm a bit of hope; it doesn’t hurt that just as Colm starts to explore a relationship with this man, things finally begin to pick up at his restaurant. The only problem is that Colm thinks this lovely new man is a guy named Mark when, in reality, it is Eric—just trying to find a way to set things right after his lapse in judgement and not destroy whatever chance at happiness he might have with Colm.
This short story is a fun, quick read. As you have likely guessed, the biggest trope in the story centers on Eric trying to hide his real identity from Colm. I really enjoyed the way Danse handled Eric’s situation. Initially, Eric’s in a position where he just wants to introduce himself and (reasonably?) assumes he can just give a fake name and thank the chef and never go back to Colm’s restaurant again. But of course, the atmosphere, the food, the chef…they all draw Eric back and he’s stuck keeping up the charade. Watching Eric and Colm interact was bittersweet because you know when the truth comes out, there’s going to be Consequences (with a capital C).
Despite the third-person narration, I felt like I got a better picture of Eric as a character moreso than Colm. Eric has his niece and they have a tradition of hitting local eateries on Fridays; he has a horrible ex; he has a job he loves; he falls for Colm. The interactions with these people and his work situation made Eric pop for me. For Colm, I felt like there was more on-page time dedicated to explaining his backstory and where his sidekick/restaurant helper Robin came from, but it didn’t feel like it deepend Colm’s character. There is a scene where Colm is letting a drunk Eric sleep it off in Colm’s apartment (above the restaurant) where I feel Colm really shines as a character beyond “Chef,” but it was a fairly brief scene.
As far as the romance goes, Eric and Colm are attracted to each other basically from the moment they lay eyes on one another. Danse, however, takes a bit of time to develop their connection. Not the least of which is due to Colm’s realistic worries over Eric first arriving at the pub with a woman in tow—and the relief Colm feels at discovering the woman is actually Eric’s niece was charming. Again, I must point out that even as Colm and Eric gravitate towards one another, Eric’s constantly worried the truth will come out…and he knows there’s no happy ending despite his growing attachment to Colm. That said, the two are often in each other’s company and Eric often finds excuses for putting off revealing his true identity as the writer of that bad review to Colm. The effect is a bit of a slow burn for the romance between our two MCs and a heaping helping of dread.
When the truth finally comes out, I really enjoyed how Danse worked the MCs reactions. It was dramatic without being over-the-top. Given my closer affinity to Eric, I completely sympathized with the actions he took to make amends. In other words, it felt very clearly like Eric was repenting and doing what he could to try to make things right—if not between him and Colm, then at least for Colm and his pub. Colm eventually expresses his feelings towards Eric by inviting Eric to a special dinner that hit all the foodie buttons for Eric. However, Colm doesn’t make an appearance to clarify what exactly the dinner means—cooking excellent food to really make Eric regret his choices? Or to show Eric he’s forgiven? Or something else? This scene represented to me Colm’s choice, either he’d take Eric back or give him up…it was a bit disappointing that it wasn’t clearer what Colm’s intentions were.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading the book. For a shorter story, the pacing was well thought out. Eric and Colm only know each other for a short time before Eric’s lie is revealed, but in that time Danse builds a respectable little romance while maintaining suspense about when and how Colm will learn the truth. The side characters are also compelling—Eric’s niece is a transwoman and helps round out Eric (and also emphasize just how badly he screwed up when she learns what he did). Colm’s helper, Robin, is an apparent runaway, seeking a place where she’ll be accepted for who she is despite her sexual orientation. Eric’s jerk of a boyfriend also helps build Eric’s sympathy for and understanding of the dire straits Colm and his business are in. If you’re looking for a tidy little get-together with a huge dollop of drama, this would be a good choice for you.