Hogben, Greg. “The British Devil”, Dreamspinner Books, 2012
Culture, Religion, Love
Greg Stephens and Danny Taylor are lovers but their relationship has a few problems. Greg is British and a flight attendant while Danny is an American naval officer. They live in different places and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is still being enforced and immigration does not look favorably at gay men who want to relocate. As bad as these two issues are, there is a third more personal problem and that is Danny’s born again Christian mother, Vivien, who is very upset about her son’s sexuality and is determined to have him join her in worship. She is intent on getting Danny back and will do anything to make sure thus happens. Greg, on the other hand, is determined to win his boyfriend and to keep him. Minor issues such as cultural issues and indeed minor and a battle for Danny’s heart and soul takes place.
Greg Hogben does a wonderful job of portraying emotions in his fist novel. I met Hogben when we sat together at this year’s Lambda Literary Awards and he told me how nervous he was about the release of his first novel and even though I had not yet read it, I told him that he had nothing to worry about and indeed he does not. While the story is not new, Hogben relates it to us in a way that he pulls us in on the first page and he keeps us turning pages as quickly as we can. He gives us some very real characters who deal with problems that many of us either face or have faced and even though Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is no longer with us, we get a look at how things were not so long ago.
The story begins simply enough when Greg and Danny meet at a bar in Bahrain and Danny falls quickly for Greg’s sense of humor and also finds his British accent charming. Greg also falls for Danny who is somewhat closeted because of his position with the military. Then he meets Danny’s mother and….
Vivien does not like Greg and she begins her campaign of returning her son to the straight and narrow. I must say that Hogben has a great sense of humor and we find that all through this book. While the book is a romance, some of the lines are t funniest I have read in a long time. Yet there is sensitivity here as well. If I did not know that was a first book, I would have thought that the author had been writing for a very long time. The way he handles emotions and humor is wonderful. The romance here is sweet like when Greg and Danny go on a long drive after they meet instead of hopping right into the sack. Hogben alternates humor with intimacy and this is very special. The men are young and in love and we certainly see ourselves as young lovers in the repartee they share. What makes this so amazing is that there is no sex and while we are sure the two are enjoying each other’s bodies, we do not read about it. It is tacitly understood. It is quite a surprise to read a romantic novel without sex.
Greg is the narrator and he takes us through the three year long distance courtship of himself and Danny. After Danny leaves the service he goes home to study law in Texas and this, of course, puts a bit of a strain on the relationship especially since Greg knows how Danny’s mother feels about him. The guys face many obstacles in their long distance love affair including Vivien, immigration, religion, culture and the distance. While the book does come to an abrupt end, it allows us to believe that a sequel is coming which for me is very good news. I love when a book makes me feel something and the sense of uneasiness that I felt when I read, I discovered to be a sense of frustration that I felt for both men. Now I see why the author did that and it certainly made me care about the characters. I also appreciate Hogben’s social commentary on the way we live and it made the story all the more personal for me. Hogben is British and his views on American gay life are well represented here. Greg Hogben has taken a beautiful swan dive into the pool of gay writing and I give him ten points. He is someone to watch, mark my words. I do not say that often and I have yet to be proven wrong.