Summary: When we return to Boo and Junior after Hard Bounce, they’re right back where we first met them–knocking heads and taking their own licks at the bar, as well as more snapshots into early life for the crew at St. Gabe’s.

There’s a scuffle over a gay couple making out at the bar, oblivious to the hostile reception of the crowd around them, their removal and ensuing beating.  There’s the man Boo finds beating a sprawled Junior in the ice and snow.

Then, there’s Boo following the lead singer of the booked band to a lounge called the Raja in an attempt to prevent him from getting too fucked up to finish the show. There Boo not only spots the woman he pines for on the arm of a British club owner and narcotics peddler named Ian Summerfield, but also alone and afoul of a rival security company. As a result of Boo breaking the boss of said security company boss’s nose, Boo and Junior know their company, 4DC, is in for a rumble. 

Things don’t go as expected when Ian Summerfield himself arrives at the fray. Boo agrees to a one-on-one with him, finding out in the middle of having his ass handed to him on a platter that the man is some kind of mythical British ninja. While helping to patch him up one of the bar staff, Ginny, asks Boo for his and Junior’s help with a matter.

Seems an of the instigators of one of the tussles has been harassing her roommate, Dana, for some possessions he left in their apartment while they were together. He owes the roommate money, and Dana has refused to hand the items back over until he pays. Junior jumps at the opportunity to hand a little beating back to the man and Boo’s White Knight Syndrome pulls him along for the ride. 

They handle things as they do. They kidnap Byron, shove him in a trunk, beat the shit out of him. deliver the message that he’s to leave Ginny and her roommate alone and cut him loose. Junior finds out later that he switched phones with Byron in the melee, but the two find themselves unable to find the guy when they return.

So color them surprised when Byron turns up dead with Junior’s phone in his pocket. With Junior in jail on suspicion of murder, it’s up to Boo to find out who killed Byron before both he and Junior wind up behind bars for a murder they didn’t commit.

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Where to even start with this one? So many things I could talk about. Maybe the fact that by the time I was 10% through the book, I’d highlighted close to a dozen amazing & hilarious lines of prose? Or I could focus on the excitement Todd Robinson embroils Boo and Junior in and the abuse he gleefully hurls their way. Or maybe, just maybe, we could touch delicately on the way he broaches both the reckless use of homophobic slurs and the very real hurt they can do to those around us?

Let’s begin here: It should not be possible to pack that much action into a book like this without leaving the reader feeling fatigued. Leave it to Robinson to nail the pacing so perfectly in Rough Trade that you’re left with the impression that Boo is just the right amount of beat up. And make no mistake–Boo gets the ever-loving shit kicked out of him. At times from his own hubris. At times from sheer numbers. And at least one time from an untimely misunderstanding.  But it’s okay, that last one was a stabbing preceding a stabbing. Of a sorts. I digress.

The point is that the book flows masterfully, weaving smoothly between periods of intense action and reprieve, fighting and taking a god damn minute to think about the problem. And I don’t think I’d buy anybody without Todd’s experience writing brawls like this. There’s never any confusion as to what’s happening to whom and how. I don’t find myself re-reading sections to parse out how a fight went down. These fights, they seem tangible. They seem real. You’ll cringe at the violence inflicted upon (and by) Boo, because it seems likely. It feels like how a fight would happen with all the chaos tainted by the good and bad luck of the combatants.

And if anybody has the bona fides to write about bouncing, to write about crazy fucks at bars and nightclubs, to speak to the pain of broken ribs and the fight of taking somebody down it would be Todd Robinson.

Todd Robinson: Broken bone fiction you know you can trust.

The story itself is wonderful. Every additional flip of the proverbial card turns up the intensity a notch, while underneath it all there’s the subtle tick tock as the time Boo has to prove Junior innocent rushes away. It grabs you by the balls and pulls you along for the ride during Boo’s mad rush to find the killer. As hard as I tried to parse out where it was all heading, the ending took me by surprise.

And it shouldn’t have. It was all there. All the pieces of the puzzle, just laid out there right in front of you and god damn, if you don’t pick them up you’ll be kicking yourself later.

But that’s hardly what hit me the most, despite all the previous rambling gushes of excitement for this book. And maybe it’s that I finished it the night after Orlando. Or maybe it’s that my heart aches for every one of my friends when they feel even a hint of trepidation over embracing who they love in public.

I’ll admit. I was… Hesitant, to say the least, at the start of this book. The unrepentant homophobic language from the bouncers. Tossing out the two men kissing and leaving them to the mercy of their attackers in the street. The [redacted spoiler bit you can thank me later for not saying now].

And though Todd gave reasons for Boo and, especially, Junior, to hold such opinions, it was Hard to read because I know men like that. I work with them nearly every damn day. Men who I can’t tell about friends who do drag, men who throw the word “faggot” around like a football.

Men who hold the opinion that it’d be okay to kick the shit out of a date they take home if they discover them to be transitioning.

But the evolution of this, shall we say, Problem, throughout the book almost had me in tears. The change Boo has to make in himself, everybody else’s trepidation at the change Junior is either going to make himself or reject in the worst of ways, makes all the rough parts worth it. Although the murder is the true rub of the book, I was more touched by the redemption of Boo and Junior when it mattered the most. When it mattered to family.

So yeah, I fucking recommend Rough Trade, are you kidding? It’s out August 9th in hardcover and digital. You can pre-order your copy now over at Amazon, on IndieBound, or go harass your friendly local bookseller until they promise to order if for you so long as you leave immediately.

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