I’ve been following Dorien Grey’s career for many years now. I’ve reviewed nearly every title he’s created, spanning a few different genres. There are few authors out there that I can say I know so well professionally, as well as personally.
When an author takes a slight step sideways in their given genre (in this case, mystery), you find yourself taking a deep breath and hoping that they aren’t going to go in a direction that alienates the fan base that they’ve developed over the years.
When Grey released the first book in the Elliott Smith series, His Name Is John, it was really something of a departure from the works in his Lambda-nominated Dick Hardesty series. Where the Hardesty novels tended to be a bit more sexy, a little more political and timely and somewhat lighter fare, John was truly something different. It was a work that had more depth, more seriousness, more feeling and showed a turning point in Grey’s career that he might be about to step into something that might just take him to a whole new level.
A one-time hit? A fluke? The end of the new?
Nope. Not even close.
I’ve just finished reading Aaron’s Wait, and I have to tell you: whatever Muse happened to touch Grey’s creativity in John is back with a vengeance.
Elliott Smith, building renovator/flipper is back for another outing with his ghostly partner John. In this work, Smith purchases a building for a makeover that holds a sad secret. One of its residents, named Aaron, died from what appeared to be a broken heart when his partner Bill went missing. Unable to move on, Aaron continues to make his presence known by knocking on doors in the building looking for any help he can get to find out what happened to the love of his life.
Enter the reluctant Smith, who only wants to flip the building and develop his budding relationship with his beau Steve. Aaron, however, becomes more and more insistent that Smith take the case, even entering Steve’s dreams and causing havoc in the building until Smith relents.
As Smith starts looking into the mysterious circumstances behind Aaron’s death and Bill’s disappearance, he begins to discover that what was once investigated as a suicide might actually be a murder. John works on the Other Side to try and get more facts out of Aaron to help Smith, but this might be one case that Smith can’t solve.
It would be so easy to take a story that’s already based on a somewhat fantastic premise and make it into a goofball comedy. That would pretty much make the work completely disposable and a fluff piece. A beach read to be left under five inches of sand when you got done with it.
Grey takes the high road instead. He gets that the premise is fantastic. He realizes that it would be easy to just do the fluff piece. Instead, he has chosen to create a literary work with so much depth, emotion and development that you never once think of it as your typical mystery.
In his protagonist of Smith, Grey has planted the situational doubt that the reader might feel at times. Smith doesn’t want to talk to ghosts. He doesn’t want to be a detective. When coincidences happen, he’s the first to say that things just don’t happen that conveniently, or only happen certain ways in “movies and books.” He is willing to put up with John, but otherwise just wants to find happiness in what he does for a living and the development of his relationship with Steve. He’s frightened to reveal John to Steve for fear of losing a great thing in his life. Overall, Smith is The Reader. He’s us. All of us want to believe, we want to help but at what personal risk? Smith is so grounded that there is no way to consider him as anything but real.
The mystery develops at a pace that can also be defined as realistic. In so many mystery novels, everything is neatly tied up in just a week or two. Wait takes place over a much wider span of time. This greatly helps to build the tension that Aaron feels as time passes and solutions aren’t found, as well as Smith’s frustration at his inability to find the answers he needs to send Aaron on his way and get back to his normal life.
John continues to grow as well, from being an amnesia-ridden ghost in John to his new presence as a guide to both Smith and his Other Side charge in Aaron. He has a better-developed sense of humor and a much bigger sense of where his place is in both Smith’s life and in his role as a spiritual counselor to the deceased Aaron.
More importantly however, is the heart and unimaginable sadness that is completely palpable at the center of the story. The idea that someone can be so immeasurably in love that they come back to haunt until someone tells them what happened to their lost love is something that usually only happens in great literary novels featuring straight characters. The strength of Aaron’s feeling for his lost love, to the point that it actually kills him, is incredibly sad and heart-wrenching. I found myself wanting Smith to solve the case not because I wanted to know whodunit, but because Aaron had already waited so long for answers that he couldn’t find peace in this world or the next. That sort of tragic love and loss is at the heart of some of the greatest works of literature.
Is it a mystery? A love story? Literary? Yes to all of the above. It’s wonderful to see Grey stretch his wings and fly with such a departure from his previous series. For people who like their mystery with a great deal of thoughtfulness, heart, compassion, humor and realism…this is the series to be reading. There’s really nothing else out there on the market like this series.
Congratulations to Grey on his breakthrough into a whole new level of mystery writing. I have no doubt he will be taking his place atop bestseller lists as this series continues to grow.
AARON’S WAIT is available in multiple, unencrypted formats from your favorite ebookstore, and is also available for Kindle and Kindle for iPhone.