A creature moves through the darkest night, lit only by the full moon, taking them, one by one, from the rain city’s gay gathering areas.
Someone – or something – is falling in love with Thad Matthews.
Against a backdrop of horror and fear, young Thad finds his first true love in the most unlikely of places – a new Italian restaurant called The Blue Moon Café. Sam is everything Thad has ever dreamed of in a man: compassionate, giving, handsome, and with brown eyes Thad feels he could sink into. And Sam can cook! But as the pair’s love begins to grow, so do the questions and uncertainties, the main one being, why do Sam’s unexplained disappearances always coincide with the full moon?
Thad Matthews has lost his job and spends his days surfing the Internet for employment prospects, loving on Edith his Chihuahua and generally feeling sorry for himself. Out of curiosity he checks out a new Italian restaurant for dinner – The Blue Moon Café – and meets Sam Lupino the owner. It’s lust at first sight for both, and after Sam feeds Thad a scrumptious meal they spend little time getting naked and jumping into bed. Sam is the man of Thad’s dreams – dark, handsome, older and worldlier and he can cook! Unfortunately, Sam is hesitant for anything more and their first encounter appears to be their last.
Jobless and without Sam, Thad licks his wounds and tries to get on with his life by volunteering at Lifelong AIDS Alliance, which provides food and other assistance to people living with AIDS and HIV. There he meets Jared who is the complete opposite of Sam, blond, boyishly good looking, closer in age to Thad’s twenty-four years and looking for fun. Jared and Thad quickly become good friends. Sam re-enters Thad’s life and while their relationship is starting to feel like love, Thad becomes increasingly suspicious of Sam’s monthly disappearances and is certain that Sam is hiding something from him. Meanwhile, gay men are dying horrific deaths throughout Seattle in the dead of night and under a full moon at the hands of a monster.
In The Blue Moon Café author Rick Reed combines horror with elements of romance and erotica to deliver a well written and chilling werewolf tale that is also focused on the characters and their relationships. What makes this story different from the multitude of werewolf stories out there is Mr. Reed’s ability to write multi-dimensional and realistic characters without detracting from the overall suspense, thrills and chills of the horror plot.
There are several elements in this novel that stand out. First, Mr. Reed’s strong characterization and his ability to get into the heads of several characters and write this story from multiple points of view, including that of the hunter, which is a staple quality of this author’s writing. The character of Thad Matthews is extremely well written and developed. When we first meet Thad he is a twenty-four year-old man who lacks self-esteem and is coasting, not expecting too much out of himself or his life. But he is also very intuitive and thoughtful which makes for a rich personal narrative from the perspective of this character. Thad is fallible (as are the other characters in this story) and this is what makes him tangible and accessible to the reader. You cannot help but have compassion for him and even identify with some of the issues that he faces, even though there are instances when you want to throttle him. For me, this story is very much a journey of self-discovery and acceptance for Thad, and his experiences through his relationship with both Sam and Jared a source of personal growth and evolution.
Sam and Jared are also strongly written secondary characters and their differences provide for a good point and counterpoint vis-à-vis the main protagonist and each other. Sam is intense and enigmatic and there is an innate sensuality to him that is both refined and animalistic only adding to his mystery and to Thad’s attraction to him. By contrast, Jared is light, straightforward and fun loving, but there is substance to this character and he is a loyal friend to Thad.
Another element that adds to the overall story’s strength and authenticity of the characters is Mr. Reed’s treatment of Thad’s relationship with both Sam and Jared. Throughout the story I couldn’t help but feel that Thad was perhaps more in love with the idea of having a partner and being in a relationship than he was with that specific partner being Sam. Thad himself contemplates this as his suspicions about Sam and what Sam is hiding surface and grow. Thad and Sam are from completely different worlds and while sex between them is scorching and being with Sam is like a dream come true for Thad, at what cost? In respect of Thad and Jared, what I appreciated most was that Mr. Reed did not take the easy way out in his development and exploration of their relationship while at the same time ensuring enough sexual tension between the two to keep things interesting for the reader.
It is the author’s descriptions and in particular the narrative prose of the hunter – the werewolf – that set the overall mood for the main plot and conjure up the most horrific of images in this novel. True to his rightful place within the horror genre there is absolutely nothing romantic or erotic about the werewolf in this tale. Which is why I consider this novel a horror story with homoerotic and romance elements rather than a gay paranormal romance. The werewolf scenes are gripping and macabre:
“There is a red haze around them as the monster feeds, shredding the man’s body until it is hardly even recognizable as a human being. The sharp metallic tang of blood hangs in the air, feeding his hunger; and making him want more.”
Finally, as with most stories written by this author, the story touches upon issues relating to homophobia that are interwoven throughout the plot adding another dimension to this tale.
There was one aspect of the story that didn’t work so well for me. It relates to the character of Graziela, Sam’s sister, whose dialogue and exchanges with Thad and Sam I felt made the character come across as one-dimensional. But that’s just me and I consider this a very minor drawback in an otherwise good story.
The Blue Moon Café was a page-turner for me and provides a good fusion and balance of horror and romance that I believe readers of both genres will enjoy. As a lover of horror fiction I found this werewolf tale to be both captivating and horrifying. Equally, I fell in love with Thad and was completely immersed in his journey. For me, much of Thad’s struggle, in particular as it relates to his relationship with Sam is very much a metaphor for the realities of relationships and that sometimes love is not enough. In keeping with the authenticity of all the characters in this tale, Thad’s decisions in respect of his relationship with both Sam and Jared made for the only viable ending to this story, for now. I can’t help but feel, or perhaps it may be hope, that Thad has more to say and that Mr. Reed will be revisiting these characters again at some point in the future.
NOTE: This review was originally published online at Three Dollar Bill Reviews.