Author: Dick Smart
August 29, 2013
Sam Cameron’s Dangerous Boys Books
Hardy Boys move over, the Anderson Twins are diving to their next crime scene. Navy veteran Sam Cameron is well on her way to creating this generation’s most iconic YA mystery-adventure series in her award-winning “Fisher Key Adventure” novels from the Soliloquy imprint from Bold Strokes Books. Our young heroes are identical twins, Denny and Steven Anderson, and the first two mysteries in the series take place in the last summer of their youth. Denny is looking forward to entering the Coast Guard Academy in the fall, while Steven plans to become a Navy SEAL, but both boys have secrets that could jeopardize their futures in the uniform services–Denny likes boys and Steven is possibly color-blind.
What I really like about Cameron’s approach is that Denny isn’t in doubt about his sexuality so there’s no pretend girlfriend and twin Steven is totally in the know about Denny’s gayness and couldn’t care less. The only reason Denny is keeping his sexuality on the down low is because he’s afraid that if he is out about being gay that he’ll be kicked out of the Coast Guard, which under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a perfectly rational fear. Meanwhile, Steven has his own secrets because every one is celebrating his acceptance into the Navy SEALs in the fall, but only Denny knows that Steven flunked the test for color-blindness. By equating the two–gayness, color-blindness–Cameron helps her young adult readers to see that both conditions are equally natural and no big deal, except that in the world we live in both can limit the boys’ career choices. Since both boys have secrets that could be devastating, Denny’s gayness isn’t the big angst-ridden focus of the books.
What these teen detectives are focused on is helping their sheriff dad solve mysteries on Fisher Key, which means that these two hot young guys–imagine in double-vision the young Luke Halpin as Sandy in Flipper–are constantly in action doing dangerous things like racing speed boats, scuba diving in old shipwrecks or jumping off bridges all while rescuing people from the bad guys and generally saving the day.
Which is how Denny meets his boyfriend Brian Vandermark, a rich transfer student from Boston who is actually a little bored stuck in the boondocks of the Florida Keys at the opening of Mystery of the Tempest (November 2011), the first book in the series. Brian’s life gets a lot more exciting when an antique yacht, the Tempest, blows up in the harbor, and the bad guys think Brian knows more than he does about the key to secret treasure missing from the boat. While Denny and Steven try to solve the mystery of the explosion and keep Brian out of the clutches of the bad guys, Brian is trying to find the key to unlock the mystery of the virginal Denny Anderson. Brother Steven is anything but, and Cameron draws much of the series’ humor from his hound-dawg ways with the local teen girls. Steven’s best friend, Eddie, is the low-life Goofus to the Anderson Twins’ Gallants. The book’s exciting climatic chase takes place in the midst of a tropical storm, harkening back to the book’s title.
The brothers are not just distinct in their sexual interests, Denny is more thoughtful and interior and works in his mother’s bookstore, the Bookmine, while Steven is more physical and exterior and works as a lifeguard at a local resort. Dad often leaves Steven “in charge,” much to Denny’s disgruntlement. The boys’ identical dark good looks come from their Cuban-born mother.
In Book Two in the series, The Secret of Othello ( September 2012), tides have turned and Steven has taken a vow to avoid Fisher Key’s many feminine temptations until he’s accepted into the SEALs, while Denny is in active pursuit of Brian and losing his virginity–a pursuit that’s continually being interrupted by the adventure, intrigue and danger of being a teen hero. The novel opens with a spectacular shooting star, but when the Othello II arrives with some sexy NASA scientists aboard (male and female), Steven hopes that it’s something more. While serving as scuba guides for a pretty, but stuck-up tourist and her cranky disabled veteran dad, Steven and Denny just may have inadvertently stumbled upon a clue that will put them both in mortal danger.
A very funny scene in the book alludes to the jealousy hinted at in the title and catches both brothers in the midst of romantic intrigue. Brian has been giving Denny the cold shoulder, so when the two brothers drop into the local burger joint and Denny catches Brian in a booth talking intimately with his best friend Sean, he quickly turns his back and sits at the counter, while begging Steven to give him a blow by blow account of the conversation. Denny asks:
“What are they doing now?”
“Really?” Steven asked. “We’re going to play this game?”
“Shut up and tell me.”
“They’re kissing,” Steven said.
Denny almost whipped around in shock, but he didn’t. “Liar.”
“Of course I’m lying. They’re just sitting there, eating. Like we’re going to do, or I’ll die of starvation,” Steven said.
Meanwhile, in walk Kelsey, Jennifer, and Melissa, best friends and three of Steven’s more recent romantic conquests and Steven announces, “I’m just going to pretend I’m somewhere else now.” The ladies have their claws out, but the ever charming Steven soon has them fighting over him.
The climax of Othello is even more nail-biting than the end of the Tempest, but part of the anxiety is that Denny and Steven are soon to depart Fisher Key, and then what? We like these guys too much to see them go! But Cameron alludes to the many cases the Twins have already helped their dad solve so she has opened up the possibility for a whole shelf of prequels, and, fortunately, Shakespeare wrote a lot of plays so she shouldn’t run out of titles.
Cameron’s genius is in constructing a series that can appeal to both straight and gay teens. Othello ends with a preview of Book Three in the Fisher Key Adventure series, The Missing Juliet, and it looks like it’s going to be all about the girls on Fisher Key this time! Juliet is due out from Bold Strokes in November 2013 and our lesbian romance lovers and their gay boy friends can check it out at http://fisherkey.wordpress.com/.
Country music fan Cameron introduces a supernatural element into her new YA series debut, Kings of Ruin: Adventure in Music City (March 2013) just out from Bold Stroke Books’ Soliloquy imprint. Unlike the squeaky clean Anderson Twins, Danny Kelly, the 16-year old anti-hero of “Kings,” is on probation after he got caught joyriding in a stolen car while making out with an older boy in leather when he was 13. His father had been killed in a car accident when Danny was an infant, but Danny still hasn’t learned his lesson when at 14 he’s scrapped up off the pavement after a serious accident that left “glass scattered on the asphalt and splattered with blood.” Cameron writes:
He told everyone he’d learned his lesson.
The real lesson, though?
Don’t get caught.
Even worse than being grounded from driving until he is 21, his new stepdad deports Danny, now 16, and his mother from San Francisco to Nashville where he works as a country music executive–rock ‘n roller Danny hates country music and his step-family and he is an outsider in his high school.
Kevin Clark is a 17-year old cool-looking gay guy in a well-worn leather jacket who likes to drive fast and furious, but as part of his dad’s team of top secret government agents. Kevin made a mistake in Dallas that got someone killed and let the killer get away and now the team has tracked the killer to Nashville to clean up Kevin’s mistake. But with the Country Harvest Festival coming up, the killer is set to strike again and Danny is the target.
In this series debut Cameron is exploring being gay as the dangerous and misunderstood outsider. But I love that she does this by introducing into her story a Gremlin-like supernatural element that I thought was going to be intrusive but actually works well. She doesn’t over-explain what that element is, so it remains elusive, yet believable. Fast car chases and fiery wrecks form a fun backdrop to the sweetly chaste love story between Danny and Kevin, two dangerous gay boys whose relationship has plenty of room to grow into a more mature romance in future books in the series. Bring it on!
Murder in Palm Springs
I apologize if I am somewhat out of my genre but I justify reviewing this true crime thriller, Until Someone Gets Hurt by Sherrie Lueder and Tyson Wrensch (Lueder Board Press LLC, 2013) because at its heart is a dangerous young man whose sweet smile might charm even the forewarned reader into a deadly romance.
Danny Garcia grew up in my hometown, but luckily, I never met him because those who did ended up in Mexican prisons, robbed of millions or dead. One man who did meet Danny and fell for his lovely smile was Las Vegas gaming executive Tyson Wrensch. Wrensch trusted Danny enough to leave him with the keys to his Las Vegas home while he was on a cruise in South America. Wrensch came home to find his bank account cleaned out of hundreds of thousands in cash. Proof that Danny had stolen it was quickly discovered on bank cameras and forged documents. Wrensch recovered his loses, but still pressed the bank to prosecute. Their attitude? The bank investigator said, “I appreciate your efforts, but why are you still pursuing this? You have your money back.” Las Vegas Metro was even more blunt, “Unfortunately, we’re busy investigating cases where people are physically injured. So–until someone gets hurt–these guys will continue to get away with it.”
Someone does end up dead, but to get there Lueder and Wrensch lead us on a convoluted trail of scams from Nepal to Hawaii to San Francisco to Mexico to Las Vegas to Palm Springs. Victims include a Japanese tourist, a politically prominent San Francisco millionaire, a San Francisco art collector and a wealthy Palm Springs retiree, among dozens of others. The mastermind behind many of the schemes was a darkly handsome Nepalese “prince” and pathological liar named Kaushal Niroula who found in pretty boy Danny Garcia a perfect partner in confidence schemes. Garcia and lawyer David Replogle had already pulled off the scam of the century with a shake down of millionaire San Francisco businessman Thomas White, who Garcia accused of sexual abuse. Unbelievably, the case remains controversial and White still sits in a Mexican jail under threat of extradition to the United States. The notoriety of the case attracted Niroula and he “happened” to run into Danny one day and the two formed some sort of sick love/hate bond as Niroula cooked up schemes to fleece White of even more of his millions.
Meanwhile, on Craigslist, Danny met lonely Palm Springs retiree, Clifford Lambert, and quickly assessed his fortune. As Lueder and Wrensch write, “From the moment that Danny Garcia introduced Kaushal Niroula to the prospect of Cliff Lambert’s fortune, the sand begins to slip through the hourglass of Lambert’s life.” The fate that awaits Mr. Lambert is truly horrifying.
What’s amazing about Lueder and Wrensch’s account is that they are able to make this convoluted story and the subsequent three month long criminal trial involving some half a dozen criminal defendants–Kaushal’s “Boiz”–into a coherent and gripping true crime account. It is a suspenseful page-turner.
The flimsiness of the cons that Kaushal and Danny think up will strike most readers as incredulous yet the two were able to fleece people who don’t otherwise seem unsophisticated out of millions. Jay Robert Nash made a study of the history of cons in Hustlers and Con Men: An Anecdotal History of the Confidence Man and His Games (M. Evans and Company 1976) and what is striking about most of the classic cons is how completely unbelievable they read on paper. Yet the old Spanish Prisoner con is as effective as the latest email from a Nigerian prince and Niroula used a version of it repeatedly with success. I saw it worked once on a sharp-eyed newsman who ended up with a twenty-dollar bill wrapped around paper scraps in exchange for his entire month’s pay. As Kaushal said, “Honey, everyone believes me until they have been conned.”
Danny and Kaushal must have been charming. Even after Wrensch becomes aware of what a sucker he’s been, he still exclaims with a nostalgic sigh, “I miss Danny.” The cherubic smile of his mug shot perhaps says it all. As for Kaushal, the darkly handsome “prince” was imperious enough to have the staff at the Las Vegas Four Seasons bowing and calling him “Your Majesty.”
I discovered local author Tyson Wrensch at a book signing he gave for Until Someone Gets Hurt at Get Booked , a Las Vegas LGBT bookstore. This fun but chilling book by a local gay author is just one example of the great books that you’ll find at your local independent bookstore, but won’t necessarily stumble across on Amazon. Check out your local independent bookstore for upcoming LGBT author readings and buy local!