by JL Merrow, paranormal (2012)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-60928-831-0
Leon Jacobson, our protagonist, is a hybrid of a fellow from an Alan Hollinghurst novel and a college gender studies thesis. Like a typical hero from a gay soap opera, Leon is a guy who is unencumbered by mundane responsibilities, living a life of pure indulgence as he travels all over Europe to attend music festivals and hook up with hot guys in the process. And he also drops words like "heteronormative" in his stream of thoughts, making me wonder whether he's one of those creepy people who spend his free time fighting with other people on Livejournal blogs over who is the gayest activist of them all.
So, while trying to get laid in Germany, our hero finds himself soaked and covered in feathers. Don't ask. While trying to hitch-hike his way back to his hostel. he finds himself picked up by a hot guy in Porsche. Any genre-savvy folk can tell Leo that he's either going to end up in some really cheesy porn scenario or a horror movie, but Leo is like, "Duh!" but hey, the guy is "kind of hot", comparable to that Douglas Fairbanks Jr bloke in The Prisoner of Zelda ("not the Stewart Granger movie, that was just a rip-off"), so he hops into the vehicle and basks in the way the guy is gazing at him "like he'd been starving for a month" and Leon is "a all-you-can-eat buffet".
Let me interrupt at this point to state that I just love whiny and bitchy guys who use Buffy speak and engage in long random meandering stream of consciousness that resembles that of a Livejournal blog kept by a strident young lady who is expert on all things gays due to her diligent analysis of fanfiction and gender study papers.
Back to the starving Douglas Fairbanks clone, he turns out to be Cristoph, a werewolf who assumes that Leon is a rogue who had just eaten dinner (the feathers, you see) and therefore Leon must be punished. Before the misunderstanding can be settled, Christoph has already bitten Leon and now Leon is a bitchy Buffy-speaking self-absorbed little pipsqueak werewolf. It isn't long before our canine lovers are involved in the politics of Christoph's pack, going up against the nasty pack leader Peter Schreiber. The villain is German. What do you think he's up to?
The closest thing I can compare this book to is MaryJanice Davidson's Undead books. Here, nothing seems to faze Leon - every situation is an opportunity to indulge in Buffy speak. I know very little about the other characters here because they are reduced to being one-dimensional props in Leon's stand-up shtick. Still, Leon's not too bad. He's not stupid to a toxic degree. Annoying, self-absorbed, has no sense of self-preservation, doesn't think much of women in general, but he's not that Betsy creature. And he knows his priorities too: when he sees Christoph in a cage after being brutally mauled by Schreiber, Leon is so relieved that the "lean, taut lines of Christoph's torso, the powerful legs, the firm ass" are still intact.
I don't know what Leon is feeling at any given scene, because he's too busy making sarcastic observations. Christoph has a sad and violent past, but it's hard to feel anything for this guy when he's often reduced to being a hot piece of meat in Leon's point of view. And after 100 pages, Leon's shtick - replicating every tedious cliché associated with the campy and bitchy gay guy - really wears thin.
Midnight In Berlin may work as a shorter story, who knows. But as a full-length story, this one doesn't take long to grate on my nerves. That's a shame because this story actually has promise. Aside from Christoph, the werewolves are portrayed as violent and savage monsters. Indeed, if Leon has been given an opportunity to explore the conflicting desires of his inner beast and his human instincts instead of being bitchy and sarcastic all the time, this one would have been a compelling romance-horror hybrid romp.
All in all, this one is a missed opportunity.
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