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Dead Ringer by Heidi Belleau and Sam Schooler

Dead Ringer I loved this book!

I was actually a little surprised by how much I loved it, because it took me a really, really long time to get into it. I was intrigued by the premise right off‐ Brandon is the spitting image of his late, famous movie star grandfather, but he completely resents being compared to him. But when he needs to make a lot of money fast, he starts working for a look‐alikes escort service. Percy is housebound, ignored by his parents, belittled by his caretaker, and obsessed with Brandon’s grandfather. He hires Brandon on a whim but it turns out to mean more to both of them than either expected.

I mean, it’s a bit of a trope‐ prostitute falling in love with a client‐ but it’s one I guess I have a soft spot for. And I thought this particular story did a great job of keeping the plot really original and exciting. But wow, it did take me a long time to get into this. I was more than a quarter of the way in before I even started liking it.

It’s not that I didn’t like the characters, or the story, or the writing‐ I loved all of those things, immensely. It’s just that it was so very stressful. Incredibly, incredibly stressful. Brandon and Percy are both in bad situations and sometimes those situations are just so… dire, that they feel honestly unbelievable. Even though I think they really are pretty believable. And the stress of those situations is basically relentless for the first half of the book.

But… like I said, the plot and writing and characterization are so good that you get sucked in, even while you’re wondering how on earth these characters are living like this. And then you’re just so invested in their stories and their lives and the developing romance, and it’s just fantastic.

There are so many things to like about this book. I loved the characterization. Each character was so real and alive and very unique. Even the most minor characters were really well thought out. I adored Kovie, Percy’s friend‐ she was so much fun and so open and so much her own person, even though she was only a side character. And I felt like even Brandon’s grandparents, who never actually appear in the book because they’ve passed away, were real people with stories of their own.

I also loved how, although the initial premise is one that’s been done before, there was a lot of stuff in this book I didn’t expect, or that led readers to look at things in new ways. Percy, for example, is ok with Brandon’s job as an escort, because Brandon honestly likes his job (after a while.) And the escort business itself could have been presented as typically sleazy and uncomfortable, and I’m sure in reality a lot are, but this one wasn’t. And that did make it feel more plausible. It has its sleazy, uncomfortable moments, for sure, but I loved that Brandon comes to really feel for his coworkers, and even gets to befriend some of his clients. I liked the way the sex was looked at‐ that some of Brandon’s clients just wanted to relive a fantasy, or be held, or have someone to talk to. It made it seem so much less one‐dimensional than it could have been.

Everything about the book just makes it so easy to fall into it, to invest yourself in it and in Percy and Brandon. And after that initial (long) period of stress, the ride is a lot of fun, but also very realistic. At least, it felt realistic to me.

I also found the writing to be very solid. Not necessarily lovely or memorable in itself, but neat and clean and tight, and the dialogue was believable and just really nicely done.

There were definitely some things I didn’t like about the book. There were a couple places where I thought maybe things could have been handled better, or that were just odd to me, but they were mostly minor. There were also a couple continuity issues, but this wasn’t the final version of the book that I read, so it’s quite possible those will be fixed. And the overwhelming stress, of course, was really uncomfortable. And honestly, I wondered if it was realistic for Percy to let people treat him the way he did, without questioning it… but I couldn’t say it was unrealistic, either.

So, overall, not a perfect book, but I thought the faults were minor. And what the book did do was make me feel for the characters. It drew me into their lives, into the story that was happening. Not perfect, no… But I enjoyed this so much. I can see it becoming a comfort read, something I go back to over and over because it’s so rich and exciting and sweet.   -SEL

You can purchase 'Dead Ringer' from Riptide Publishing: Riptide

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