“By running off to the seminary? Joining the Marines? Trying to save every street kid who lands on your doorstep? Who do you think you’re kidding? They’re all just substitutes for the one you didn’t save.” — Danny to Eddie in Black Dog
I am a huge fan of Cat Grant’s work, so when I had the opportunity to read Black Dog early and review it, I jumped at the chance. Now I regret that jump. Not because the book isn’t excellent, but because it is the first in a series. It is so good that it’s the kind of book you want to start after the whole series has been published so you don’t have to wait to see what happens. I’m impatient like that!
Black Dog is the first in the “Bannon’s Gym” series. Danny Bannon owns the aforementioned gym and is one of the MCs in this installment. His counterpart is Eddie Roscoe who owns (along with his mother) “Eddie’s” a diner previously owned by his grandfather and father. Danny and Eddie have know each other forever. They have also been in love with each other forever. They have had a tumultuous relationship.
Eddie used to be a championship boxer trained by Danny. Their relationship outside the ring led to a tragedy either one would give his own life to undo. At a point in their relationship where they have been estranged for months, along comes Tom, a gay teen whose father refused to accept his sexuality. A homeless teenager sleeping behind the dumpster at the diner. Tom attends the same high school Danny and Eddie did and obviously comes from money. Eddie’s savior complex shifts into high gear and he gives Tom a place to stay for the night.
A night on the couch in the office turns into a job and a room at Eddie’s mom’s house. His mother, Gloria is a hilarious balance to the serious nature of most of the book. They by-play Cat Grant writes between Eddie and his mom proves that even a thirty something independent man can still be told what to do by his mom.
Tom has run from a horribly abusive father. His father, a powerful man in the community, beat him before he came out, but the violence escalated afterward. His mother is also being abused, but she refused to leave. Tom recently turned 18 and decided he couldn’t take it another day. Eddie and Gloria encourage Tom to train at Bannon’s to learn how to protect himself if the need arises in the future. Eddie and Danny join forces when Tom shows amazing potential as a fighter. They become the big brothers, the protectors, the mentors that Tom desperately needed his whole life.
Ms. Grant masterfully writes of the abuse Tom has suffered, while not being too graphic. The way she uses Tom’s suffering and healing to force Eddie and Danny together is so sweet. How could either of these men, as written by Ms. Grant not be moved to help a boy who appears to have been helpless up until now. The scenes in the gym are in turn snarky, sweet, sexy and sweaty. The kind of sweat generated when men pound on each other in anger that soon turns to something else entirely.
Banding together to support Tom forces Danny and Eddie to confront the loss that has kept coming between them for years. These characters feel real, their pain in that confrontation is deep, and we the readers are able to see how greatly it has affected all areas of their lives.
They have faults, weaknesses and what I call “-isms”, which are weird little flaws particular to a person. Not necessarily faults, just “-isms”. The realism (!) Ms. Grant injects into these characters is what makes this such a good story. Their feelings and reactions to those feelings are real and realistic. Their relationships with their friends, family, lovers are real. They seem like people you would meet if you wandered in to Anytown, USA.
I don’t know how many more books are planned for the “Bannon’s Gym” series, but I will fight my way to the top of the reviewer pile to get to them first! A knockout recommendation.
Reviewed by: Tina