Rob Osler’s debut mystery novel, Devil’s Chew Toy, is a rollicking romp through the tropes of the cozy sub-genre fronted by a gay main character – Hayden McCall – and his clique of diverse sidekicks. Readers will be having so much fun following this gang’s escapades they will forget how radical the pairing of the gay male experience and the typically conservative cozy style truly is.
By placing a single gay male into the leading role, Rob Osler immediately signals that this will not be the typical crime cozy. Hayden McCall is an immediately likable would-be hero and most readers will find themselves connecting with him quickly. Hayden moonlights as a relationship blogger, so the narrative is occasionally interrupted by Hayden’s irreverent posts detailing the pitfalls of modern-day dating, not unlike a queer Carrie Bradshaw (if that’s not too redundant a statement.)
This is a novel that wastes no time jumping in the center of the action. After a night out on the town – and an unfortunate encounter between his face and a Go-Go boy’s foot – Hayden finds himself being invited home by that same deliciously sexy dancer, Camilo Rodriguez. The only problem is that by morning, Camilo will have vanished leaving Hayden to take care of Commander, Camilo’s demanding but lovable bull terrier – a pet that is another subtle twist on a standard cozy trope.
And then the police knock on the door…
Having felt a connection with Camilo, Hayden launches his own amateur investigation into this disappearance. He is quickly put into touch with Hollister – a Black, mohawk-sporting, lesbian friend of Camilo’s and the two set out to trace Camilo’s movements over the last few weeks. If readers think of them as gender-bent, racially-reorganized, and sexuality-switched couplings of the past, such as Laverne and Shirley or Abbott and Costello, it’s not too hard to predict how smoothly things will proceed for these two.
Rob Osler places Hayden and Hollister into situations that no-doubt further the actual investigation while also maximizing the comedic potential of this dynamic duo. Readers will switch on a dime between fearing for their safety and guffawing over the slapstick nature of their actions. This juxtaposition is where Osler shines. The case itself will eventually weave together some serious social commentary into what is essentially a comedic caper or Seattle-based road picture (a la Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.)
At the heart of it all is the burgeoning friendship between Hayden and Hollister. Dynamic opposites in almost every way possible, these two form a bond and with the help of some of their extended, chosen family, they are able to successfully solve this case – and a few other problems along the way. Readers will be delighted to know that Devil’s Chew Toy is the start of a series, so there will be more antics to come from this endearing team of misfits soon.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.