Bad Reputation, by Ajax Bell
Series: Queen City Boys, Book 2
Publisher: Jugum Press
Release Date: July 1, 2016
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Does Seattle give a damn about his past reputation?
After being caught in a backseat tryst with the mayor’s son, twenty-one-year-old Shane Fontaine is exiled from his small hometown. Now, alone in the city, he seeks solace in punk show mosh pits and bathhouse saunas.
But the music scene and gay community in 1982 recession-era Seattle aren’t always safe. Rescued from a brutal beating, Shane forms a friendship with a Russian engineering student that launches a confounding set of traumatic and ecstatic encounters.
Shane’s quest for human connection sends him down dark, dangerous streets. To survive, he must become the man who chooses to persist, to do the right thing and stand up for others.
This close-up portrait of pre-AIDS Seattle illuminates dark corners, where homeless kids cluster for safety near the revitalized Pike Place Market. Bad Reputation contrasts the deeply personal need for friendship with the universal dilemma: people aren’t always what they seem.
Coming of Age
With its gritty portrayal of early 80’s Seattle, Bad Reputation almost reads like the West Coast’s answer to Santino Hassell’s Sutphin Boulevard – and that’s a very good thing indeed. Much like Hassell does with his descriptions of Queens, NY, Ajax Bell manages to evoke an early 80’s downtown Seattle so vividly that you almost feel like you’re walking the same dark streets, dive bars and bath houses that are so colourfully described.
Bad Reputation is the story of Shane Fontaine, a young man who seems to have been born under a bad moon. Orphaned at an early age, Shane is raised by his grandparents in the kind of small town where you’re welcomed and protected, so long as you live your life by small town rules. Unfortunately, getting caught in the backseat of a car with the sheriff’s son only earns you a one way ticket out of town and with nowhere else to go and very little money to his name, Shane heads for the bright lights of Seattle. Lonely and seeking companionship, he spends his time checking out punk bands and hanging out in gay bars, ever aware of the dangers lurking the in the shadows. When a potential hook up turns into a back alley beating, Shane is saved by Bash, a Russian immigrant and university student who takes him back to his room to tend to his wounds and give him a place to stay for the night.
From this tenuous thread, a friendship begins to form and Shane finds himself drawn to Bash, as much for his good looks as his gentle nature. But as Shane’s attraction to Bash grows, he finds himself torn between revealing his feelings and keeping them under wraps, hoping to maintain the friendship that has become so important to him. In the meantime, Shane continues to frequent the city’s bath houses, becoming acquainted with the handsome but slightly shady, Frankie, who easily offers Shane what he’s afraid of asking from Bash. But the more time Shane spends with Frankie, he realizes that Frankie’s easy demeanor is merely a lure and Shane is just a pawn in a dangerous game. Suddenly, his attraction to Bash and his continued relationship with Frankie are becoming irrevocably intertwined and Shane must eventually choose a course of action that will change his new friendships and his new life forever.
I loved this book. Bash is amazing and I firmly believe that everyone needs a sweet, sweet Bash in their lives. His tenderness with Shane is so beautiful and pure, and I mean pure in the sense that Bash is one of the few people in Shane’s life who is not only looking out for Shane, but encourages him to look out for himself. When events conspire to force Shane to take action that could permanently affect his relationship with Bash, he does so with Bash’s best interests at heart. Something that might not have been possible without Bash’s unwavering friendship.
What could have been terribly angsty, Ajax Bell manages to make heartfelt, honest and hopeful. Yes, the book takes us down some dark streets, but the friendship between Shane and Bash is the light at the end of the tunnel (yeah, I’m getting sappy – sue me). I enjoyed every moment of this story, from start to finish, and I look forward to reading more from this wonderful author.
A Seattle native now living in the southern American hinterlands, Ajax Bell likes pretty boys, beautiful women, and good jokes. According to Ajax the best things in life are loud music and bourbon. No matter what the task, Ajax always has the right pair of shoes. Never a sea captain, but a background in library sciences and a lifetime of pencil pushing together left Ajax with a rich fantasy life and a compulsive need to write it down. One day Ajax hopes to own a genetically altered hippopotamus the size of a small dog.
You can find Ajax online at https://flickerjax.com/
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.