“Hope, which whispered from Pandora’s box after all the other plagues and sorrows had escaped, is the best and last of all things. Without it, there is only time.” – Ian Caldwell
Ah, the fictional antihero. He isn’t the strongest or the handsomest or the smartest man, but there is something about him that makes the reader love him for (or in spite of?) all his faults. We root for him, question his judgment, cringe at his mistakes, feel his pain. We want him to find the silver lining around the cloud of his existence and when it happens, we cheer for him because maybe he deserves it just a little bit more simply because he’s suffered just a little bit more. Gordon Frost is the newly minted antihero in Santino Hassell’s pulp-fictionesque post-World War III novel After Midnight, and I love him.
A former hustler, a current drug dealer, a man whose brain-to-mouth filter is largely nonexistent, he’s done what he’s had to, to survive after the war left him and his estranged sister orphans; sometimes he seems bent upon living up to the potshots people take at his intelligence (or lack thereof), sometimes he doesn’t; sometimes he believes it when those people say he’s not the sharpest tack in the box… Never let it be said Gordon Frost doesn’t know himself. He talks when he should probably shut up, isn’t exactly what you’d call politically correct, and thinks with his little head instead of his big one a good percentage of the time—he’s a little hung-up on a porn star who strings him along by the crotch, after all. He’s not only a dealer of the drug Pandora, but he’s also a user. So, why did I love him? Well, bless him (and I sort of mean that in the Southern way), when a man knows his limitations, knows when to run from a fight or a drug deal gone south but keeps on keepin’ on in spite of it all, he’s an okay guy in my book. Or in his book…whatever.
After Midnight is not only pulp-fictiony good but is also slightly noirish in tone, that wrapped in a gritty though vague dystopian setting where murder and mayhem are de rigueur and fairly define urban decay, where there doesn’t seem much left to hope for, where survival of the fittest doesn’t apply as much as survival of the luckiest. A boss who dislikes him immensely and a man who shows up in his life unexpectedly, and may or may not be interested in ending poor Gordon, are just a small dab of whipped cream on the cowpie of his life. A weaker man might’ve just cut his losses, cashed out and called it good, but not Gordon.
But it’s not all bad. Adam Blake, yes, he’s an assassin; yes, he’s on a mission; yes, his cover is blown and he should’ve wasted Gordon per regulations; yes, sometimes wasting Gordon doesn’t seem like a half bad idea to him at all, but, Adam is also, against his better judgment and as much as it annoys him, kind of infatuated with Gordon. Good thing for Gordon, too, because he’s made himself an enemy who’s dead-set on making sure Gordon pays for something he didn’t even do. Bless him.
If you’re on the lookout for something a little different in M/M fiction, I can assure you After Midnight is a lot different. It’s more literary fiction than romance, but I still couldn’t help rooting for Gordon and Adam all the way to the end. It’s not wine and roses by any means; it’s a gritty book in a dark setting and as I was reading, I couldn’t help but think a little bit of Charlie Huston and wonder if this was the kind of book he’d write if he dabbled in the LGBT genre.
I don’t know about that, but I do know I’d love if Santino Hassell would give us a sequel.