Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

A Dangerous Man by Anne Brooke

adm.jpg “Want to swap books?” Anne Brooke asked me last week. “Okay then,” I thought, “We both write on the dark side, so why not?” But I swore I wouldn’t let it interfere with my other reviewing duties. After all, I had five other books in the queue. And then I read the first page … Some time later my husband was nudging me but I managed to wave him off and kept turning the pages.

After discussing Vulpes Libris with a friend I agreed that my reviews couldn’t all be raves, because, you know, people love grouchy reviews too, but here I am about to rave again because A Dangerous Man is the most gripping book I’ve read in years.

Michael is a struggling artist in Hackney, just starting out and supplementing his income with a little bit of prostitution. He is desperate to be taken seriously as an artist and he eventually gets a commission to provide a city firm with some artwork, which is where he meets Jack: a handsome, if reserved, businessman. This part of the novel is incredibly erotically charged, and as readers and writers alike generally agree, ‘Sex is bloody difficult to write,’ so hats off to Anne Brooke. Jack and Michael get it on, and get together, which is where things begin to go wrong…

The middle section of the novel slows in pace and becomes much darker. Michael continues to draw (and think) in shades of grey, and continues to do things that he regrets. Jack, however, is still sailing through life. He has a loving, wealthy family behind him, whereas Michael has only his wiles and a handful of tricks…excusing the pun.

There are detailed descriptions of the drawing process, and the parallels between writing and drawing are obvious: the rejection, the self-belief (and lack of), the doubt of others, the manic creative flow. As a writer this did sometimes take me out of the narrative, as I found myself thinking about my own writing trials and tribulations, but non-writers would be immune to that, I would think.

As I read A Dangerous Man I kept asking myself ‘Who is the dangerous man here? Is it the difficult (but refreshingly true to himself) Michael, or is it the figure of capitalism, Jack?’ Because, yes, Michael is ‘troubled’ and he both craves and despises normality, but surely Jack senses that? Does Jack really go into this with his eyes closed? Is Jack a simpleton? No, he is shrewdly intelligent. A ruthless businessman, we assume.

Michael might be set up as the manipulative one, but Jack employs Michael as an artist mostly to get close to him, he forces Michael to endure his gratingly middle-class family, even though Michael can’t bear them, and he says that if Michael earns £500 to contribute to an exhibition, he’ll pay for the rest. Ah.

Michael doesn’t have a job and there’s only one way he earns money, although apparently Jack is unaware of Michael’s rent boy activities. This part of the book is upsetting as Michael goes further and further to earn the money, and I couldn’t help thinking, ‘How many blow jobs does it take to earn five hundred quid??’ Some readers have wondered why Michael doesn’t seek ‘a real job’ rather than resort to prostitution. Well, there’s no reasoning with Michael, but I’d say he’s a creature of habit.

The novel’s obvious Bad Guy is a nasty piece of work called Paul, who exploits and manipulates Michael at every turn…but my thoughts kept coming back to Jack. Is Jack the true Bad Guy? Does Jack represent a negative capitalist force manipulating the fates of lesser, poorer mortals? Well, yes and no. Jack is basically a pretty decent person. He does his best, but in his way he’s just as messed up by his upbringing as Michael. He’s as square as they come. He’s all for ‘being calm about things’ and treating matters of the heart in a logical fashion, but his lack of loyalty and ‘conditional love’ make things infinitely worse for Michael.

Which is all to say that I am for Michael. He might be a loony, a weirdo wrapped up in himself, a psycho unable to function in social situations, but he’s direct, and I like that.

The ending is dark and not entirely unexpected but it kept me on the edge of my seat, as despite fearing the worst, I determinedly hoped for the best. This page-turner is commercial fiction at its best. I defy anyone to read this and forget it. Michael is someone you remember.

A Dangerous Man. Anne Brooke. £8.00. Flame Books. ISBN 0-9545945-6-8

17 comments on “A Dangerous Man by Anne Brooke

  1. rosyb
    November 29, 2007

    Wow, a pacy romp of a review for a pacy pace-turner seems like. You know you are going to HAVE to hate the next one just for the stats.

    Honestly, though, this sounds gripping and different. Perhaps Anne could come on and discuss some of the points you bring up – for example – who is The Dangerous Man?

  2. Anne Brooke
    November 29, 2007

    Gosh, thanks, Lisa. A really interesting review – and I’m incredibly grateful – especially as I know people either love or hate Michael, on whom the bulk of the novel falls.

    And – if I can pick up RosyB’s point – I did actually see most of the people in the novel as dangerous, and in some ways more dangerous than Michael. After all, it’s Jack who takes M. out of his environment and gives him a new way of life he simply isn’t able to relate to, at heart. It’s a dangerous thing to do.

    I also have to admit to using my own feelings and approaches to writing when describing Michael’s art work (I’m not an artist – though I did get the book checked by a professional artist once I was happy with it). You might also be interested (shocked!?!) to know that he didn’t actually start off being an artist. In the first draft, he was a cleaner, as I didn’t have the courage or the confidence to believe I could do something more complex. So about 80% of the novel disappeared entirely and was rewritten in future drafts. My, that was fun! Or possibly not …!

    And Lisa’s right – the middle section when M goes back on the game is a bit dodgy – I fudged it by picking a figure (the £500) and then doing more of a fudge by means of Paul taking some of the earned cash (he’s “running” M by that point) as his “fee” but not saying how much that was. Sorry. I felt really unconfident about admitting what I was writing to anyone and asking for help. But I realise that’s no excuse.

    I’m also glad the sex came over okay. I did enjoy writing it (um, sorry about that too!). Weirdly, a lot of the interplay between M & J comes from my own experience of marriage – and there is a scene in there, later in the book, which actually happened (no, I’m not telling you which one!) – in essence. (My husband will now hide in the cupboard at this point and I will have to entice him out with chocolates …!)

    Anyway, sorry I’ve blathered on, but even after all these years after writing it (I finished it in 2002, but it took four years and zillions of rejections before Flame took it on), I still have a soft spot for Michael. He got me through a very difficult year.

    Hugs, Lisa – and thanks again.

    A
    xxx

  3. lisaonsea
    November 29, 2007

    Oh, now I want to know which scene…

    You know I think I’ve turned into a Michael groupy. I think I’d try to defend everything he ever did, because I thought he was excellent. Very real and yet very unusual. It’s a cracking book (hence the rave) and I’m so glad to have read it. There was a sentence on page 273, which I wanted to quote and forgot. It was this:

    “Certain people in life, whatever you do, will make you feel like a failure and will spin you helpless into the dark.”

    So true. I think when I read that I knew I would come back and re-read this novel again.

  4. lisaonsea
    November 29, 2007

    Michael as a cleaner? I can’t quite believe that. 80% rewrites are something I am familiar with, however. Grrr. The sex was extremely well written, I thought.
    P.S I have no idea how many blowjobs it takes to earn £500, but as Michael’s groupy I feel he should have charged more :-)

  5. Anne Brooke
    November 29, 2007

    Thanks, Lisa! Michael wishes me to tell you that you can have anything you like from him for free. Just don’t let Jack know!

    Oh lordy, I’d better get those normality pills out again … My characters are rioting. Again.

    ==:O

    A
    xxx

    PS There are traces of his cleaning past, even now. There’s a hell of a lot of water at the end after all!

  6. Ariadne
    November 29, 2007

    Great review – I must get this shelftalkered in time for Xmas!

  7. Luisa
    November 29, 2007

    Fabulous review – I’m completely intrigued!

  8. marygm
    November 30, 2007

    Well done, Lisa and Anne.
    This is not the first rave review I’ve read for this book
    so I’m amazed that you had ‘zillions’ of rejections for it, Anne. Why do you think this is? Lisa calls it ‘commercial fiction at its best’ or is it seen as falling under the category of gay fiction? Sarah Waters seems to be bringing gay fiction into mainstream reading.

  9. Anne Brooke
    November 30, 2007

    Thanks, Mary – and others indeed! To be honest, I don’t think any of my work is easy to place. Or indeed market. I had a fair few rejections from mainstream publishers who didn’t like the fact that I was a woman writing about a gay male, plus others who didn’t know where it might sit on a bookshop shelf or who indeed would read or enjoy it. Plus ADM was way too bleak and dark to be taken on. I actually found the whole process extremely depressing and frustrating. Still do really!

    Flame were actually the last publisher in the UK I approached, and if they’d said no I was planning my usual self-publishing route, which I’ve done – both individually and as part of a writers’ co-operative venture (Goldenford) – with the rest of my books – apart from one coming out in the US next year. I don’t think I really “fit in” to what publishers/agents expect. Even my own agent (who was the last agent in the UK I approached – but I was used to that scenario by then!) finds me impossible to sell! I think it’s made more difficult by the fact that I don’t necessarily stick to a genre, and publishers certainly don’t like that either.

    Mind you, that said, they were probably right to reject me, as I don’t make anyone any money! It does make me think that in the future there should be room for the big blockbuster novels which are commercially viable, but the small books which aren’t shouldn’t be discounted either. There should be room for us all – even a self-publisher (most times!) like me.

    :))

    A
    xxx

  10. Jackie
    November 30, 2007

    Amusing & convesational review & I would really like to read this book because of it. That sentence that lisaonsea quoted shows a lot of insight & I bet the rest of the book is full of stuff like that. It was probably the dark & offbeat subject matter that led to all the rejections, but most times something different is more interesting anyways. Glad that Flame took a chance.

  11. Anne Brooke
    December 1, 2007

    Me too! Thanks, Jackie.

    :))

    A
    xxx

  12. marygm
    December 2, 2007

    Good on you, Anne, what a great attitude! As for not making them money, who knows they might if they took a chance on you and boosted your book. But it seems to me that this industry is a bit of a gamble all round.
    Best of luck with this book. That’s it, I have to buy it!

  13. Anne Brooke
    December 4, 2007

    Thanks, Mary! And if you do read ADM, I’d love to know what you think.

    Hugs!

    A
    xxx

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This entry was posted on November 29, 2007 by in Entries by Lisa, Fiction: thriller and tagged , , , , .

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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