Title: He Ain’t Heavy
Author: J.P. Bowie
Publisher: MLR Press
Cover Artist: Deana C. Jamroz
Amazon Buy Link: He Ain’t Heavy
Length: Novel (181 pages, 52 k words)
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: This not-quite brothercest story fell flat for me through shallow characters and too many “wait, WHAT?” moments.
***This review contains possible spoilers***
The Blurb: Brad and Duncan McKinley, brothers, best friends and business partners think that the most difficult part of the days ahead will be the aftermath of their coming out to their parents—but secrets their parents had been keeping from them all their lives come to light in a brutal fashion. The murder of their parents exposes a brother they never knew existed, a man without a conscience who is out to destroy them, but not before he reveals to them something that will not only change their lives forever, but also make them come to terms with the feelings for one another they have suppressed for years.
When we first meet Brad and Duncan, they’re on the verge of coming out to their parents, and understandably nervous about it. Not because of their mother, who they’re sure will love them no matter what. But their father is a rich, bigoted, reactionary patriarch who they feel is unlikely to accept he has a gay son, let alone two, and who’ll most probably turn his back on them, if he doesn’t disown them right away. Not that they’d depend on their father’s money. They’re quite well off on their own, running a successful publishing company together. And it isn’t as if they had ever been close to their father anyway. But there’s something else bothering them, an even darker secret that they’re not going to reveal to their parents: Brad and Duncan love each other, and not in a purely brotherly way. This is clear from the beginning; they discuss the fact and also talk about never being able to act upon the desire they feel for each other as it would be wrong since they are brothers. It’s also quite clear from the beginning that despite their mutual reassurances to the contrary, both are more than ready to do just that. They are rather physical with each other anyway, and every touch, every embrace fuels a sensual fire within the respective narrator.
However, upon arriving a their parent’s place, Brad and Duncan stumble into the awful scenario of finding their parents and both domestic staff murdered. While they are still busy getting over that shock and dealing with suspicious policemen and the necessities of organizing the funeral and talking to the family lawyer about their parents’ estate, Duncan is kidnapped, and a mysterious caller demands from Brad “papers worth a fortune” in exchange for Duncan. But the secret this caller reveals shakes Brad’s world even more than the fact of Duncan’s abduction: Brad and Duncan are actually not related either to each other or to their parents, but were adopted as young children, and the brains behind their parents’ murder and Duncan’s abduction is their third brother, Thomas, who’s actually the only blooded McKinley son.
And this was the point from where the book went downhill for me.
The villain, Thomas, was actually the most interesting and best-drawn character in the book though he, too, was a miss for me. Most of my “wait, what?” moments had to do with him, starting with the first scene in which he features in person, killing two of his former associates but letting live the adopted brothers he supposedly hates and who’ll be able to identify him later on. And then, once he’s safe in hiding, Thomas decides letting Brad and Duncan live was a mistake after all, and sends his assassins after them, but goes about that in a way that lays a track broad and smooth like a highway that points directly at him but which his pursuers still aren’t able to follow for a long time.
Allegedly bipolar, what Thomas does and says makes him rather appear schizophrenic to me. He was supposed to be some kind of scheming, insane, criminal genius but mostly acted just plain crazy stupid, which in turn cast a bad light on the law enforcers who hunted him but most of the time failed to pick up on the neon signs he left them.
Right from the beginning, the forbidden-love aspect of Brad’s and Duncan’s relationship was very much in the fore, and their determination to resist rehashed through their dialogue, inner thoughts and even a dream. Though I found it laid on a bit thick, I could’ve lived with it, had there been other plot elements in compensation. But there were none. Brad and Duncan love each other, lust after each other but won’t consummate the lust because they are brothers, and once this obstacle is out of the way they go at it like bunnies and live happily ever after. And that’s about all this story is about, and anything else is roadbumps, sprinkles and mere embellishment.
There were a few secondary characters I liked, especially FBI agents Boone and West, but the whole business with Duncan’s kidnapping and his rescue, the papers in question, what they signified, what Thomas did with them, who was involved in doing what, and the eventual resolve was quite the muddle. It seemed to me that all this background noise was only there to emphasize the fact that Duncan and Brad were indeed not related to each other, nor in any kind partial to the crimes the members of their adopted family had committed, and therefore were entitled to live and love together.
Their mutual attraction and the way they dealt with that was also used to define their respective personalities; otherwise, there doesn’t seem to be much to either of them. In fact, they were so similar, and overall so pale, that I had problems telling them apart at times, they left so minor an impression with me.
I also couldn’t quite buy the easy acceptance their altered relationship found with their environment. Everybody was like, oh you used to be brothers, but now you’re lovers? That’s fine, and what else is new? I found that a bit strange.
Overall, I didn’t really hate this book, it just left me underwhelmed. For what it was, it was moderately entertaining and smoothly written. I’ve read and enjoyed other works by this author, but He Ain’t Heavy just didn’t do anything for me. As always, this is only my opinion, and others might feel differently.