Review: Grime Doesn’t Pay (The Brothers Grime #2) by Z.A. Maxfield

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The Brothers Grime- EddieEddie 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.

Book Details:
ebook, 241 pages
Published November 27th 2013 by Loose Id (first published November 25th 2013)
ISBN13 9781623005863
edition language English

Review: Grime and Punishment (The Brothers Grime #1) by Z.A. Maxfield

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

JGrime and Punishment coverack Masterson was a firefighter until one massive blaze ended his career and put him on disability.  Needing a new career and a way to help people involved, Jack created The Brothers Grime, a biohazard cleanup company.  The Brothers Grime go to work at the crime scenes after the police and other agencies have cleared the site for clean up.  Jack’s company’s job is to help people move on from a traumatic event by physically cleaning up all  the mess left behind, the blood, the gore, everything.  Then one night, The Brothers Grime get a call that changes everything for Jack.  A man committed suicide at his cousin’s house and a clean up is needed.  The suicide?  One Nick Foasberg, former friend and more of Jack Masterson.

Jack’s memories of Nick are as traumatic as the accident that disabled him, perhaps more so.  A high school attack on Jack involved Nick and others,  an attack so savage it put Jack in the hospital for months and has had ramifications for Jack’s life ever since.  And Nick’s suicide brings them all back with a vengeance.  Further complicating things is Ryan Halloran, Nick’s cousin and owner of the house Nick was living in.  Ryan looks like Nick while acting nothing like him.  Nick’s life had been spiraling out of control for years as drugs and alcohol took control of his life.  Ryan, a nurse, had been trying to help Nick recover.

Nick’s suicide brings the men together.  And while Ryan only knows part of Nick’s past with Jack, the two men decide to gain closure and clean up Ryan’s house together.  As an attraction grows between them so does Jack’s guilt over a secret he is keeping hidden from Ryan.  Ryan has made Jack feel alive again after years of numbness and Jack doesn’t want to lose this chance at love.  Both men need to move beyond their involvement with Nick and their pasts before they can find love again with each other.

I love Z.A. Maxfield’s stories and Grime and Punishment is no exception.  In this first book in a new series, the author delves into the relatively unknown field of crime scene environmental cleanup, a fascinating aspect of the trauma crimes leave behind.  With that occupation as a foundation, Maxfield gives us a group of emotionally and physically wounded men around which to build her story and series.  I am sure I am not the only one who has not given a thought as to what happens when the police and medical examiners leave a scene.  Maxfield takes us there and shows us the people and companies that make a living cleaning up the tragedies that life brings.   The reality of these firms is both ugly and redeeming.  They descend upon the scene, jockeying to throw in their bids and grab up the job before anyone else and that often means talking to the victim or victims shortly after the trauma has occurred.  The manner in which that interaction is handled swings between sensitivity and rapaciousness.

For Maxfield’s character, Jack Masterson, this is not merely a job but a way in which he can help the victims move forward with their lives.  He has been on the both sides of this job and knows that he and his people can make a difference and not just a living.  Jack Masterson is one of the walking wounded.  Jack was traumatized early in life by an attack during high school brought on by someone he loved and trusted.  And that betrayal has caused Jack to emotionally withdraw from life.  Jack is a masterful creation, a complex personality whose frailties, his emotional and physical vulnerabilities make him an easily accessible character to identify and like.  And as he starts to change and become alive once more, the reader is so heavily invested in his emotional growth and rebirth that we feel we are there with him every step of the way.

Ryan also has many layers to him, a nurse drawn to the downtrodden and lost, he too must look closely at himself and his motives with regard to his relationships with Jack and Nick.  The build to a relationship between Ryan and Jack is slow and full of obstacles.  It is instead a very realistic portrait of two men wary of each other and their pasts who cautiously proceed forward together with no guarantees.  I loved this aspect of the story and look forward to much more of them and the series.

Of course, there are so many others to grab your attention.  Police officer Dave, so deeply in the closet he has built that he sees no way out,  Dave too was affected deeply by Jack’s past as was everyone Jack has remained close to.  The  Brothers Grime is full of people who care for Jack, whether it is Gabe, Jack’s cousin or the others that work with them.  All characters feel so alive that it is easy to entrust your affections to this diverse group of individuals and their various situations.

i love the way Maxfield has built her narrative here.  At the start, it seems slow, almost a little frozen, just as Jack is.  He is numb emotionally, physically hurting and so is everyone around him.  All are bogged down in life, frozen in status as the story starts and the narrative reflects that.  It’s mood is just as dark and deep as the characters at this stage in the story.  But as their emotional stasis breaks up and the characters move forward in their lives, then the narrative moves forward at a pace equal to the characters emotional rebirth and growth.  It becomes lively, and light in places, only to swoop downward at the first hint of returning troubles.  Really,  Grime and Punishment represents just a remarkable job of storytelling by the author.

I highly recommend this story and can’t wait for the next installment in the series.  This is a great introduction for those of you new to Z.A. Maxfield. And for those of you already fond of this author, here is a new story of hers to love.

Book Details:

ebook, 176 pages
Published May 7th 2013 by Loose Id (first published 2013)
original title
Grime and Punishment
ISBN13 9781623003111
edition language English
series The Brothers Grime