Author: Taylor V. Donovan
Cover Artist: Anne Tenino
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: 34K words
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Review Summary: A lovely romance set in a time when gay men could not love openly, featuring a budding investigative journalist with a vested interest who brought their story to light.
Richard Lewis Bancroft was twenty-one years old when he met the love of his life during a summer vacation. One look was all it took for him to know that was the person he wanted to be with forever.
But how can an up and coming actor manage to hold onto his career and the man he loves in 1964?
Maybe he can’t.
I was enchanted by this story and although I don’t normally review free books I thought that this one deserved to be widely read. Heatstroke is told through both Michael’s POV and that of Richard Lewis Bancroft, through his journals.
Eighteen year old Michael Spencer was staying with his parents at his grandmother’s house in Lake Tahoe for a few days. Elizabeth Spencer was a recluse and a very bitter woman and seemed to resent her family’s annual visits. For two years Michael had been trying to search the house since he suspected that Elizabeth had misled them all about the family tree, and one day while she and his parents were out for a couple of hours he seized the opportunity to conduct a quick but thorough search of the house. After almost being buried in dust among the various boxes in the attic he found what he was looking for and it turned out to be a goldmine. There were journals dating back to 1960 which detailed a wonderful story of the love between Richard Bancroft and a Latino baseball player named Manuel Guzman.
Since he played a role in a school production made famous by Richard Bancroft decades ago, Michael had begun to suspect that his identity was not the name that appeared on his birth certificate. The drama club director remarked on his uncanny resemblance to the well-known actor from the sixties, and when Michael saw his picture he, too, was struck by the likeness. He looked up Richard on the Internet and downloaded everything he could find on the actor. It appeared more and more likely that there was a definite family connection, however he couldn’t ask his grandmother any questions about Richard since she refused to talk about the past and forbade him from going through her papers which she guarded jealously.
Michael hid Richard’s journals in his room and when he read them it was as if he were transported to the sixties because the journals and letters vividly portrayed a world 50 years ago. Apparently Richard’s family hated showbiz and when he indicated that he wasn’t going to college but instead was going to try his luck as an actor on the stage his parents disowned him; only his sister Helen stood by him. When he arrived in New York he barely eked out a living, sometimes going hungry and just scraping by because he couldn’t find a job, any job. Several months later he found one as a waiter in the theater district. After work he took acting classes in The Actors Studio and landed a job in a television commercial. Then Richard was lucky to be selected for small acting role on the stage and almost a year after leaving home he got a part in an off-Broadway show. From there it was as if he couldn’t put a foot wrong. In 1962 he was offered a part in a musical and never looked back. He became a famous movie, stage and television star, winning two Oscars, one for his role in Cafe Au Lait the same character that Michael played in his school production.
However Richard had a huge problem — he was gay in a time where this was unacceptable and gays could killed if they were discovered. He and Manny fell crazy in love with each other but living openly together would have been suicidal. When threats were made against Manny’s life Richard realized that he had to quell the rumours about them because they were always seen together, as well as save Manny’s life, and on the advice of his friend Benjamin Richard gave up his lover and married a friend of his sister’s. Manny was heartbroken and rejected Richard as he was not prepared to live in the closet while Richard lived openly with his wife. Then a year and a half later Richard disappeared, never to be heard from again and no one knew if he was still alive. Manny’s baseball team went on to win the World Series.
I thought that this story was well crafted, and the flashbacks to the sixties was credible as the author showed how the men of that era lived discreetly by arranging secret liaisons in different places hidden from the eyes of the press and their wives. Many of the wives were beards either unknowingly or were fully aware of their husbands’ sexual orientation, but most of them didn’t seem to mind as they enjoyed an affluent lifestyle that could only be provided through their husbands’ fame and fortune.
Now decades later Michael was slowly unraveling the story of Richard Lewis Bancroft, wondering if he were still alive and most important, if he were alive would Richard be willing to meet him and fill in the blanks in his genealogical tree.
This is a real “feel good” story and Taylor V. Donovan did a great job on the characters who were all three dimensional and lit up the page. Moving between present day and the past created an interesting mix of time periods and the story flowed well. The writing was so fresh and creative the author made me want to turn the pages to find out what happened to our lovers.
I felt for Michael’s father who was sympathetically portrayed and I was pleased that Elizabeth, Michael’s grandmother, got her just deserts. Michael played her like a violin.
If you’re looking for a story that will uplift you I highly recommend that you pick up this book which is free at ARe. Great job Taylor.