‘Mogul: A Novel’ by Terrance Dean

It’s a shame that summer is over, for Terrance Dean has written a textbook example of the fast-paced “summer novel” with Mogul (Atria Books). Drawing on his experience in the music business, already discussed in his 2008 non-fiction book Hiding In Hip Hop: On the Down Low in the Entertainment Industry from Music to Hollywood, Dean here lays out the life and hidden loves of a top producer “on the DL.”

Son of a jazz musician, Aaron Tremble hopes to create his own success by creating beats for hip-hop artists. He gets his big break when he meets legendary producer Larry “Pop” Singleton, who renames him “Big AT.” “Pops” also recognizes another black gay man when he meets him, and takes Big AT under his wing (among other body parts). He soon discovers that media and entertainment are threaded through with a secret network of closeted black gay men, “The Family,” who help each other in business – and often help themselves to good looking young men in need of a start on the ladder of success. Soon Big AT is a major player in the business, and begins a secret relationship with one of his artists, “Tickman.” At the insistence of Pop to remain closeted, Big AT also acquires a girlfriend, Jasmine, who soon bears him a daughter. All seems to be going well for this mogul on the rise, until tragedy and a revenge-seeking paparazzo threaten to destroy it all.

Terrance Dean’s past in the music business adds extra color and verisimilitude to Mogul’s depiction of days spent in the studio and high-flying nights at media parties. It will also lead readers to wonder if there are any real-life models for some of the characters: is the older “Godfather” figure in the novel, for example, based on a certain legendary hip-hop label co-founder who is often referred to as a “mogul” himself? A major network reporter bears some resemblance to a pre-self-disclosure Don Lemmon. And can AT himself be a stand in for that single-named producer and fashion-line founder? True to the rules of “The Family,” however, Dean himself would never tell.

Short chapters, ranging from a few paragraphs to a few pages, help to keep Dean’s story moving and same- and opposite-sex scenes add extra spice to the story. Although he alternates narrators from Big AT to Jasmine to the paparazzo Craig, neither of the other two have as distinctive a voice as Big AT, or come alive as well as individuals. Craig in particular is little more than a plot device. He makes a rather abrupt exit from the book –perhaps to prepare for his reappearance in a sequel.

Readers looking for pure entertainment and escape will likely ignore these quibbles. With Mogul, Terrance Dean shows that he is capable of writing a successful page-turner. Fast moving, gossipy, and sexy, it seems just perfect accompaniment to lounging in the sun.

Mogul: A Novel
by Terrance Dean
Atria Books
Paperback, 9781451611922, 336pp
June 2011