The Guardian Angel of South Beach by Neil Plakcy

Despite regular work-outs, out-of-shape computer geek Leo can’t build the body he dreams of. Then he meets a strange old man who mixes up some magic pills, and Leo’s body blossoms. But even though he’s developing a killer body and having lots of great sex, he’s not happy, until he begins to change his personality, too. Can becoming The Guardian Angel of South Beach, protecting the weak, weird, and drunk from predators, make him happy and help him hook up with Dan, the man of his dreams?

Leo is a software engineer and lives in South Beach, Florida. He is an average guy who although feels he has an attractive face, has a tendency toward junk food and difficulty in keeping his weight down despite his work-outs. He cannot compete with the bevy of beautiful men in his area, each one “more handsome, hunkier and sexier than the next.” By his own admission, Leo gets laid now and then but it’s usually late on a Saturday night, when standards drop “faster than the ball on New Year’s Eve.” His social life is in the doldrums and he can’t attract the kind of hunky men he wants.

While eavesdropping on a locker-room conversation he learns of an old man named Pedro who doles out magic pills that will transform him into the buff and hot guy he’s always dreamed of being. Leo visits old Pedro in his room on the second floor of the neighborhood Cuban bodega for a dose of those magic pills. Taking one pill a week, Leo begins his transformation from an out of shape geek to a buff stud. His new look inspires him to take better care of himself and he now has more men and sex than he knows what to do with. His hard body and physical strength give him sanction to come to the rescue of his fellow citizens beating up gay bashers and other miscreants. He likes himself in his new role as the guardian angel of South Beach, but something is missing. He’s still not happy. The casual hook-ups increasingly leave him empty and longing for real love and a relationship with someone like Dan, the barista at his local Starbucks where he buys his daily morning coffee. Now that Pedro’s pills have helped him attain the physical beauty he so desired, Leo embarks on a personal journey to transform his inner self and along the way he may just get the love he’s been searching for.

The Guardian Angel of South Beach is a well-written and charming story that at first glance appears to be a light and easy-going read full of steamy sexual encounters. But continue reading and you’ll soon realize that Mr. Plakcy has cleverly written a story that encompasses all of the above while at the same time imparting a tale that, through a magical realist touch, explores such themes as the quest for beauty and perfection within not only gay culture but society as a whole through Leo’s journey.

The story is written in the first person through Leo’s point of view and in Leo Mr. Plakcy has written a sympathetic character and genuinely good man who represents the plight of any guy and every guy. Leo tells his story in a lighthearted manner and with witty flare and there are numerous funny moments throughout the book. But there are also several poignant moments when Leo takes us back to high school and college where he desperately tried to fit in and was rejected by his own LGBT community and lover because he was over weight. These scenes are quite touching and add to the depth of the character and to the reader’s understanding of him.

The first person narrative provides the reader with an intimate view of Leo’s journey – his realization that being beautiful and having a lot of sex with many different men is not enough and his quest to find deeper meaning in his life. The quasi superhero aspect of the story serves as a means of helping Leo to realize the kind of person he wants to be. In addition to Leo’s rich narrative his journey of physical transformation is well chronicled by Mr. Plakcy who provides the reader with Leo’s weight and measurement changes at the beginning of each chapter along with cleverly titled chapters that hint at Leo’s more internal evolution as the story unfolds.

While men come and go in Leo’s life, there is one constant – Dan – the man he sees every morning for his cup of coffee and who is always there with a kind word and encouragement. The author takes his time in developing Leo and Dan’s relationship providing a level of authenticity to Leo’s realization that he has deeper feelings for Dan and in particular his insecurities that Dan is not available, or if he is, his fear of screwing up a potentially promising relationship by making a move before he is ready. While this slow build-up serves to heighten the sexual tension between the two characters and by extension the reader’s anticipation of if and when these two will get together, the relationship between Leo and Dan takes a back seat to the overall focus of the story which is really Leo’s journey of personal growth. For this reason I would be more inclined to place this story within the category of erotic fiction rather than strictly within the romance genre.

The one draw back that comes to mind in this story is its novella-length. Although well-written, there were parts of the story that I felt were rushed, in particular the last part during which the author brings Leo and Dan together. In this respect, I would have gladly settled in to read a lengthier book and feel that this would have allowed for a fuller development of this coupling. However, this was not a major issue for me because I was fully invested on Leo’s journey.

The Guardian Angel of South Beach is a heart-warming read that I enjoyed. Most of us mere mortals have, at one time or another, been in Leo’s shoes, whether we wished to be more beautiful and attractive to others, to fit in or to be loved for who and what we are. In this sense it is not a stretch for readers to identify with Leo, as he is quite an accessible character, and to champion his quest to be the best that he can be, both inside and out, and to get the love that he deserves. Pedro’s pills may have propelled Leo’s initial physical changes, but it is his change in attitude that is a much stronger catalyst in helping Leo to find himself and love.

Mr. Plakcy ends this tale on a very interesting note by leaving the door open for the possibility of continuing the superhero theme with a dynamic duo involving Leo and Dan. But, we’ll just have to wait and see if he’ll be revisiting these characters and their story in a future book.

The Guardian Angel of South Beach by Neil Plakcy is available at Loose Id.

NOTE: This review was originally published online by Rainbow Reviews.

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