Title: Bad Judgment
Author: Sidney Bell
Publisher: Carina Press
Length: 322 Pages (Kindle)
Category: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
At a Glance: There’s not a single throwaway scene or word of dialogue in Bad Judgment, not a moment where I didn’t want to give this book my full and undivided attention.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Embry Ford was a quiet, ordinary guy—until tragedy ripped his life apart. Now he’s living under the radar, desperate to hide his identity and determined to learn the truth behind what happened. Even if that means working for—and bedding—a man he loathes.
As a bodyguard to a shadowy arms dealer, Brogan Smith knows distractions can kill as easily as a bullet. But when he sets his eyes on his client’s sexy assistant, he can’t get him out of his mind. Even more unnerving: the closer he gets to Embry, the more Brogan starts to suspect he might be protecting the wrong man.
Embry was sure nothing but vengeance would satisfy him—until Brogan offers him something far more tempting. Now Embry must choose: punish the people who nearly destroyed him or fight for a future with the man who has become his entire world.
Review: Bad Judgment is author Sidney Bell’s debut novel, and I hope to the gods of fiction that it’s not her last, because this. Book. Is. Awesome. As a change of pace in the M/M romance genre, it’s not a story about being gay. Rather, this is a story of intrigue and danger and espionage and revenge, which happens to feature two gay protagonists, Brogan Smith and Embry Ford. This is also not a run of the mill love story. Not by a long shot, thanks to Embry, who hasn’t built walls as much as he’s constructed a poison tipped razor wire façade meant to deter familiarity, and a sharp tongue he’s not afraid to use to cut to the quick as a means of avoiding conversation.
The story is told from the perspective of both men, in the third person, so the benefit of the dual deep point of view is nothing but one gigantic bonus for readers. In addition to experiencing the brutal impact of why Embry does what he does and is who he is, we also get to know Brogan, with all his charm and quirky sense of humor wrapped up in a war veteran who takes caring for people to an entirely different level. When he decides to care about someone, it’s not a half-hearted effort; he jumps without a parachute and just hopes the landing won’t kill him.
Full disclosure: Embry is not an easy character to love let alone like. At least, not in the beginning. He doesn’t speak much, and when he does, it’s either all business or dismissively caustic. He translates to the reader precisely the way he translates to the other characters in the book, and what Bell does with a deliberate brilliance is to parse out his backstory in such a way that one can’t help but forgive him his aggressive loathing of others as we learn more about him—all while never once softening the man up to the point of being unrecognizable from who he was at the outset of the novel. The love of a good man brings with it NO magical romantic fixes for Embry, which I appreciated for its avoidance of the deus ex machina that would have been disingenuous to the nth degree. In the end, Embry is still peevish and difficult to communicate with, in a forgivable sort of way, and the author has done such a fantastic job of constructing the character by this point that the only true imperative is Embry is trying with everything he is to be a man Brogan will fight to keep.
In his own—but explicitly different—way, Brogan is as damaged as Embry. He is a man who internalizes every perceived shortcoming in his life, owning faults that are not sins of selfishness or unethical crimes, but he heaps those burdens upon his conscience while he also endures triggering moments in the story that cause his PTSD to nearly overwhelm his hold on reality. As a contrast to these more serious character traits, though, is Brogan’s goofy good guy sense of humor and endearing persistence with Embry. As sociopathic as Embry’s behaviors and moods are, Brogan’s are as warm and irresistible. Rather than Embry’s words and dagger-filled stares warning Brogan off, it causes Brogan to work all the harder to unravel the Embry shaped mystery—a dangerous pursuit because Embry is made of secrets and thirsts for the blood of his enemies. And I don’t mean that in a vampiric way. He is wrath and vengeance personified.
Heaped upon my love of Bell’s gift for characterization is her overall talent for telling a fast paced and gripping story. There’s not a single throwaway scene or word of dialogue in Bad Judgment, not a moment where I didn’t want to give this book my full and undivided attention. The author wrung every conceivable emotion from me, from happy to horrified, as we learn more about all of Embry’s motivations and watch as he comes near to being psychologically dismantled in a ruthless way, which ultimately justifies (at least in the fictional sense) his actions. The pivotal confrontation scene was pitch perfect and rife with tension as Embry enters the final showdown with his demons and must decide how far he’s willing to go to sacrifice the man he has a difficult time admitting he loves.
You can buy Bad Judgment here: