Author ~ N.R. Walker
Published ~ 18th February 2016
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Spencer Cohen is the guy who gets answers to relationship questions. Playing the role of the new lover, his job is to make his client’s ex realise one of two things: he doesn’t want to break up or he really does. Either way, his client gets answers.
The ex would either apologize and beg, or turn and walk. But in the end, Spencer’s client won. If he wanted his ex back and got him, it was great. If the guy walked away, then as hard it was for the client, he knew it was over. Regardless of the outcome, Spencer’s work was done.
Andrew Landon’s ex left him without so much as an explanation. But his sister can’t stand to see him miserable, so, much to Andrew’s dismay, they hire Spencer to be Andrew’s new boyfriend to get the ex back.
For Spencer, it is never personal. Merely a business transaction. No emotions, no strings, no complications.
Even a blind man could see how this would end.
N. R. Walker is, among other admirable things, an astonishingly versatile author. Whether she’s writing of the red dirt of huge ranches in Northern Australia, a vampire saga for the ages, or a tender story of two men in love, she always brings her unique and special sensitivities to the task. Within any framework, location or plot, her young men are tender and loving, without exception. Her main characters are good people, often insecure people, reaching out to another, rapidly becoming not just partners, but soul mates, dear friends, a safe harbor and home. And most of all, she brings her brilliant, accessible prose to the job, illuminating the deepest interiors of her ever-growing characters and touching the reader in often amazing, but always beautiful, ways.
Yes, I’m gushing, mostly because “Spencer Cohen” is just one of those books. With the thinnest of plots, its conclusion fairly evident from the first page, she weaves a web of tenderness, despair and hope that left me, more than once, in tears. And what more could any reader (or reviewer) ask of a great gay Romance?
Spencer Cohen is a sort of transplanted hipster. An immigrant from Australia to Los Angeles, he sports the trendiest haircut, short pants with suspenders, and remarkable tattoo sleeves from shoulder to wrist on both arms. His smile is devastating and, to be quite honest, his body is hot. But his job is beyond bizarre. He is a professional (and successful) “boyfriend for rent”. He contracts with comfortably-off young men who are afraid their partner is straying, or who have been unceremoniously dumped, to accomplish one of two goals: get their boyfriend back, or give them closure so they can move on. He does this by advising his client on improving his looks and attitude, suppressing his neediness and providing a public dating partner to cause the ex (or soon-to-be-ex) with enough reason to either come back or cut-and-run. It’s a heck of a job. He plots convoluted strategies to show up at events and locations where the former, or cheating, lover is likely to be and socialize outlandishly, as though he is the new guy, the rebound guy, replacing the one who’s straying or walked out. As Spencer himself puts it: “We have a goal here, and that’s to get Eli to realize he made a mistake”.
Like I said, it’s a pretty thin plot, a plot that takes off when Spencer is hired by Andrew to find out why the live-in-boyfriend, Eli, suddenly decided “he needed space”, and get him back. Andrew is a nerd. An adorable (and well-put-together) nerd with the most interesting job – he draws and inks animation cels for Dreamworks, mostly for promotional projects. As an avocation, he plays piano and writes music with a passion and elegance that touches and moves Spencer deeply.
Therein lies the rub. You’ve probably already guessed, but Spencer begins to feel things for Andrew – and that is absolutely not allowed. Spencer is a professional, and he needs to keep his distance from his clients. He’s not getting paid to fall for a client; he’s getting paid to reunite his client with his “beloved”.
Needless to say, that’s not working out too well. The more he learns of Andrew, the more he can’t believe that Eli (or anyone else) would ever walk out on this self-effacing, talented, kind and beautiful young man. Yet he still does his best to reunite him with his boyfriend, even though the closer he gets to success, the more it’s killing him. Seems as though he’s being hoist on his own petard.
Spencer has sworn off of love. He has his own baggage that he carries around, perhaps baggage that might explain why he left Australia, or why he’s estranged from his family. Spencer is complex and has a great deal of difficulty dealing with his unexpected and unwanted affections for Andrew.
This is where Ms. Walker really shines. Spencer’s and Andrew’s internal conflicts are both authentic and heartbreaking. It’s obvious to the reader that these two men belong together; they are the Yin to each other’s Yang, the other-half predestined by Karma, they are each other’s “home”. She populates “Spencer Cohen (Book 1)” with a rich cast of colorful characters who work in or hang around the tattoo parlor Spencer lives above, characters who truly want him to be happy, who encourage him and weep for him as he bleeds. In lesser hands than Ms. Walker’s, this might be a light, superficial, romantic comedy. In her’s, it’s a profound and beautiful reading experience. My review cannot do “Spencer Cohen Book 1” justice. You have to read it to inhabit Spencer’s heart, to feel his pain, to root for him to find his way. And, rest assured, he will, at least as far as Book 1 goes.
We still don’t know his family story, we don’t know where Andrew and Spencer will journey next, but we know it will be together. We don’t know whether (or how) Spencer will be able to continue his career, or what new direction his life will take. And I promise you, you will want to. “Spencer Cohen (Book 1)” is not at all a cliffhanger (don’t worry), but there’s so much more we want to know, so much journey left to him that I, for one, can’t wait for Book 2. If you’re looking for an unusual, touching romance with beautifully-rendered characters, this book should be at the top of your list.