Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Eddie Vasquez, one of the three owners of The Brothers Grime, has fallen for his niece’s elementary school teacher Mr. B. Andrew Daley. Each time Eddie drops Lucy off at her third grade classroom, he intends to speak to Andrew about more than just Lucy’s accomplishments and classwork and each time he leaves without saying anything. Eddie finds Andrew gorgeous but daunting because of his education and learning. Eddie is profoundly dyslexic, leaving him unable to read without special instruments and a considerable amount of time pouring over the words. And while Eddie has managed to be successful in life working with his disability, he continues to feel as though he is “afflicted”, unworthy of someone whose conversations are filled full of books and book references.
Andrew Daley has his own hidden problems, specifically his father. Andrew’s father used to own a bookstore but since his mother’s death, his father has changed severely and not for the better. In fact his father’s problems have gotten so extreme that Andrew has not seen his father in months, staying in contact only through sporadic phone calls. Andrew too has noticed his student Lucy’s gorgeous uncle and looks forward to every visit Eddie Vasquez makes to his classroom. He loves to see how deeply Eddie loves his niece and the adoration that shows in the way he treats her. And he wonders why the obviously interested Eddie doesn’t approach him.
Then one of Eddie’s former elementary teachers shows up at school, disoriented, hair and clothes rank, smelling of human decomposition, and the two men join forces to help her and discover the events that have brought her to a school she hasn’t work at in decades. Mrs. Henderson is the teacher responsible for Eddie’s diagnosis of his learning disability, her support and care helped him to move forward, personally and professionally. Now when she needs help, Eddie is there, together with the rest of The Brothers Grime and Andrew, to provide the assistance she so badly needs.
Mrs. Henderson brings Eddie and Andrew together but each man is still hiding their biggest secrets from each other. When those secrets are finally disclosed, will the fragile relationship they have been building survive, and grow stronger under the weight of truths finally revealed?
I loved the first book in this series, Grime and Punishment, published in May of 2013. It was funny, heartrending and so unusual in that the profession of its main character, Jack Masterson, is one rarely found encountered in fiction. Jack was a former firefighter whose disability forced him off the job into a new profession, that of crime scene cleanup. Jack, along with childhood friends, Gabe and Eddie Vasquez, formed The Brothers Grime, a crime scene cleaning service whose motto “Because Life Is Not A Fairy Tale” adorns their vans and advertises their business. It was a fascinating introduction to this necessary and deeply unpleasant profession as well as the intelligent, multidimensional characters who own and operate The Brothers Grime. It was a smart, engrossing story, one I couldn’t put down and highly recommended. But it still did not prepare me for the remarkable and absorbing tale to follow, Grime Doesn’t Pay, Eddie’s story.
In Grime Doesn’t Pay, Z.A. Maxfield tackles several tough and complex elements, all crucial to the story, the characters and the series and she handles them all with intelligence, compassion and an authenticity that educated while removing nothing from a riveting story. Maxfield’s narrative moved me to a better understanding of those burdened with these problems while highlighting the need for more education and enlightenment in the media of these issues and their effects upon our society, a powerful statement for any story.
First lets look at Eddie, a complex and admirable character who has learned to deal with his profound dyslexia while still bearing old pain from the manner in which his family, friends and schoolmates treated him growing up. I loved Eddie and through him, Z.A. Maxfield taught me so much more about dyslexia and the instruments and coping mechanisms used by those affected by this disease. It is a dispassionate, layered portrait that encompasses both the adult who manages his dyslexia successfully while never forgetting the child taunted by classmates and torn down by his parents disappointment. There is so much to this character, from his courtly manners derived from his family and background to his dancing, a fluid and artistic expression of the inner man. Eddie is full of complexities, and the story, told from his point of view, is enriched in equal measure.
Secondly, and on par with the misinformation and misunderstandings of the complexities and range of dyslexia is the mental disorder of hoarding. Too often this mental disorder is viewed through the superficial treatment given in the media, a foil for comics and the subject of cable tv programming. But in the hands of this author, and seen through the eyes of Eddie, Andrew and his father, it becomes real and grimly relevant to our understanding of mental illness today. Each man is a different prism through which the disease can be viewed. Andrew’s anguish as the son lacking the understanding of his father’s illness, full of anger and pain, and reeling with embarassment, is the voice we so often see in the media. His is the channel through which most of us see the disease and its effects upon family and loved ones. Next, in Andrew’s father, we see the disease given full reign, but made very human, grounded in his pain and humiliation. His own embarrassment and pride in full conflict with the reality of his situation and his inability to cope with his mental illness on his own. We are brought into his home, piled up with debris, overridden with roaches, and infused with a stench of old food and rat excrement that you can almost smell coming out of the pages. That picture combined with the pathetic state of his person and the dignity that he is trying to maintain will bring you to tears and still let you understand the fury of the son. And finally, to give the reader yet one more perspective from which to view this disease, we see it from Eddie’s standpoint. As a dyslexic who stands outside the norms of society, he is perhaps the only person (outside of a psychiatrist specializing in hoarders) who can reach Andrew’s father and understand him. And once again, Maxfield makes us feel every bit of their pain, of Eddie, who can’t read, being the one to understand Mr. Daley, a person who has lived his life for books and now uses them as a basis for his hoarding.
Added to these exceptional aspects of this story are marvelous characterizations outside of Eddie, Andrew and Mr. Daley, including Mrs. Henderson and the problem of the aged (another beautifully rendered subject). There is the culturally rich Vasquez family, surrounding Eddie with love and expectations. The hilarious morally challenged employee, Skippy, and the ever closeted police officer and childhood friend of The Brothers Grime, Dave Huntley, who figures in all the stories. So many wonderful characters to challenge the way you view people and the manner in which they live their lives.
If the serious nature of these topics give you pause, don’t let it. There is a wonderfully moving romance that binds these issues together. There are scenes of terrific warmth and humor to balance those of grim realism and pain. Z. A. Maxfield moves her story along concisely and smoothly, leaving the reader so wrapped up in the people and events that you will barely be aware of the pages flipping by. This story left me floored and throughly addicted to these characters and their future. I think you will feel the same. Consider Grime Doesn’t Pay not only a must read but one of Scattered Thoughts Best Contemporary Stories of 2013.