DATE WITH A SHEESHA By Anthony Bidulka Insomniac Press ISBN 9781897178904
Paperback, 262 p., $16.95
Was Neil Gupta murdered by Muslim gay bashers in the emirate of Dubai, as his father believes? Or was his death the result of a mythical carpet he was searching for, as private investigator Russell Quant increasingly suspects? As readers have come to expect from this series, the seventh case takes the Saskatoon detective off to an exotic rendezvous with food, adventure, local lore, and danger before returning home and ending the case. Not unexpectedly, even on the Arabian peninsula, his next-door neighbor, the ever mysterious Sereena Orion Smith, shows up. And it is no surprise that Russell’s emotional life continues to be as messy as ever. As one of his friends tells him: “You’re running away […]. You’ve been skirting around getting into a serious relationship for so long you don’t even know you’re doing it.” It’s somewhat difficult to judge an individual book in a series. You are watching the development of recurring characters even as you sort out the clues in the present murder mystery. This case seems designed mostly to pace the series, perhaps prepare for the next one. Russell experiences no breakthrough such as he underwent in Sundowner Ubuntu. In fact, this time I wanted to shake him hard for having learned so little about himself in his nearly forty years. The various threads of the mystery, however, are cleverly woven together; I was left guessing about the ultimate pattern right up to the final unraveling.
SMOKED By Garry Ryan NeWest Press
Paperback, 228 p., $18.95
The fourth novel in the Detective Lane series concerns another case of heterosexual child molestation. In contrast to the horrors wreaked by the villains in the case, the family created by Lane and Arthur with Lane’s nephew and Arthur’s niece, despite quite a bit of adolescent turbulence, remains a stable and loving unit — a triumph over the different kinds of abuse all four of them suffered in the families into which they were born. Matt, the nephew, says to his uncle: “We’re all strays. You, Arthur, Christine, and me. You think we don’t know how harsh things can be?” Given the continuing shenanigans of “family values” advocates, the novel resonates all the more powerfully because everything about it has an authentic ring, without a hint of propaganda. The investigation into who killed a Calgary dental assistant and deposited her body into a Dumpster, along whose side her name has been written in graffiti, again becomes largely an inverted mystery; the reader catches on quickly who the perpetrator must be and even the motive for the murder. The question becomes whether Lane and his straight partner on the job — Cam Harper, who is every bit as solid and compassionate as he — can stop him before he destroys another child. Since the case is less complex than Lane’s earlier ones, the book makes a good introduction to the series. For old friends of Lane, the further developments within the family will continue to delight. This series has become one of my favorites.
VIEUX CARRÉ VOODOO
By Greg Herren Bold Strokes Books
Paperback, 230 p., $16.95
Scotty Bradley fans have undoubtedly already read the long-anticipated fourth case of one of the cutest private investigators in the city of New Orleans. I wager they were not disappointed. Mr. Herren has pulled a couple of sly cards out of his sleeve to play a game that left this reader quite happy. The novel plays metafictional games with Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone. Scotty discovers that an old family friend, murdered, was one of three who stole the sacred Eye of Kali in the remote Himalayan state of Pleshiwar. Now more than one group would like to find the jewel and return it in order to gain power in a nation that holds one of the world’s richest uranium supplies. Can Scotty solve the riddles the murdered man left him and uncover the jewel before someone else does? That is the basic plot, but around it the author has woven a number of surprises that I am keeping to myself so as not to spoil the fun for those who have not yet read the novel. It begins with a Preamble, which I would suggest readers, especially those new to the series, to skip and to turn instead straight to page 27. Everything that is necessary to know is revealed within the novel proper. Anyone who does not know the series though really should read the four novels in sequence — the only gay mystery series, by the way, to have a threesome as its heroes — in order to experience the emotional roller-coaster that the author set in motion with the very first, Bourbon Street Blues. The novels just keep getting better and better.
. . . Balls . . .
A STICKY END
By James Lear Cleis Press
Paperback, 290 p., $14.95
Dr. Edward “Mitch” Mitchell, an American-born Edinburgh physician, unabashedly admits, “I’ve never regarded myself as a great detective. Those mysteries that I’ve managed to ‘solve’ in the past have become clear more through luck than judgment, by blundering across the truth when I was looking for something else — usually cock.” Thus it goes in this third (and perhaps final) mystery (the title takes on additional significance at the end of the tale). Down to London for what he hopes will be numerous sexual romps with his best friend, Boy Morgan, the latter’s wife and his two children conveniently off on a lengthy visit, Mitch’s hopes are dashed the moment Boy meets him at the door and croaks, “Dead.” It turns out that Mitch has not been the only one to get Boy’s trousers — and pants (we’re in England) — off him. The lawyer Frank Bartlett has been equally successful. That is, until Frank locks himself into the bathroom at Boy’s home, after a particularly vigorous (and for Boy, uncharacteristic) three-way with a bar pickup, and slashes his own wrists. The mystery becomes increasingly complicated. Why was Frank also doubly poisoned? And how much of the truth is Boy telling?
While the police take Boy off for questioning, Mitch is off following clues and his own randy member, determined to find out what happened that fateful evening — and to let neither Holmes nor Poirot outdo him. Set in the 1920s, this comic trilogy has got to be the best set of sexually explicit, comic mysteries to come our way since Derek Adams’s Adventures of Miles Diamond trilogy in the 1990s. Like Adams, Lear weaves serious themes through his amateur sleuth’s hijinks. For the first time Mitch takes stock of the kinds of lives both Boy and he are leading and thinks seriously about his own future. If Boy is lying to his wife, Mitch is equally lying to Vince West, the lover he found as a result of the first case, The Back Passage. Does he want to continue this path? Nothing could top the sheer OMG-ness of that first encounter with Mitch and his unruly penis, but in many ways A Sticky End is the best of the three novels, in both plotting and character development.
. . . Slugs . . .
SCALPING THE RED ROCKS
By Greg Lilly Cherokee McGhee
Paperback, 222 p., $16.95
Charlotte, N.C., computer technology expert Derek Mason arrives in Sedona, Arizona, with two missions: to help his Aunt Ruby, who has decided to relocate to the desert, find a suitable condo; and to check up on the progress of a real estate development into which the family-run business is pouring money. The last thing he expects is to discover the real estate agent who is involved in both deals dead — and scalped — in the bathroom of the condo Ruby is considering. It is already clear that many of the permanent residents of the resort town are dead set against the new development. Has one of them tried to stop the scheme by taking out a chief player? Or was the murder more personal, something to do with sex or drugs? With a financial stake in the answer, Derek sets out to find the truth. During the course of his investigation — with frequent pauses to satisfy his nicotine addiction (how long has it been since we have had a hero who smokes tobacco?) — he becomes increasingly attracted to one of the initial suspects. This is the second Derek Mason mystery, with a much more satisfying puzzle. Other characters appeared first in the author’s Devil’s Bridge, also set in Sedona, although they too have ties to the Tar Heel State. Though the novel conveys a vivid sense of place, its chief characters thus are largely outsiders feeling their way in a culture that appears familiar but is actually alien to them. The novel is crisply plotted. I especially admire how the author uses red herrings in ingenious ways.
By Mark Abramson Lethe Press
Paperback, 212 p, $15.00
In these days of so many self-inflated blogs from authors, it is downright refreshing to read a book that aims simply and honestly to provide “beach reading.” This fourth excursion into the heart of Tim Snow admirably fulfills its goal. Again, a lot of different stories unfold. In trying to help out the owners of the restaurant at which Tim and sometimes his Aunt Ruth work, Tim’s boyfriend, Nick Musgrove, discovers that body parts account for some of the clogged-up sewer lines. San Francisco’s finest quickly muddle the investigation. So, as before, Aunt Ruth, aided this time by her cat, comes to the rescue. There are other issues to occupy her also. She is worried because Tim and Nick are going through a rough moment mostly of Tim’s making (a wandering eye and commitment issues). In a laugh-out-loud comic turn, her “big hair” daughter, Dianne, leaves the safety of Texas and braves catching AIDS (and who know what else?) on a secret quest of her own. And Sam, Ruth’s boyfriend, has at least one secret of his own (though she’s already guessed it). In the end, the least likely suspect is unmasked as the killer, and, of course, all is set right. Without ever seeming derivative, the series clearly is indebted to Armistead Maupin. The author has great fun with his characters; so does the reader.
. . . and Pellets
By Neil S. Plakcy MLR Press
Paperback, 222p., $14.99
Ellery Queen in his introduction to a collection of detective stories (101 Years’ Entertainment, 1941) wrote, “Modern readers tend to think of ‘detective stories’ as novels […]. But the original, the ‘legitimate,’ form was the short story.” Queen was writing at the end of the Golden Age when outlets for short stories were still plentiful. During the greater part of the history of gay detective fiction, those outlets steadily disappeared, with the results that few gay stories exist. Only two multi-author anthologies of gay mysteries have appeared: Finale (1989) and Men of Mystery (2007), and single-author anthologies, before now, have simply been nonexistent. Joseph Hansen did publish a number of collections, but his famous sleuth appears in only two of the stories in Brandstetter & Others (1984). Hugh Havtikess’s Lavender Teasers (2000) is a collection of puzzles, challenges to the reader to pick up the clues about the murderer’s identity, not proper short stories. Thus, strange as it seems, Mahu Men is a first. Eleven of the fifteen stories show the author’s Honolulu police detective, Kimo Kanapa‘aka, solving crimes. (The other four show him having sex and, though they demonstrate how basically decent Kimo is, add little to the book.)
Some of the stories are simply entertaining variations on basic plots, but several rise above the ordinary. “The Second Detective” unfolds the conflicted feelings an officer has when his being used as gay bait to catch a serial rapist makes him confront the fact that he is gay. “False Assumptions” begins with the ingenious way an English teacher signals that she is in trouble, but then demonstrates how cultural assumptions mislead Kimo (and the reader). The story that lingers most forcefully in my mind is the mythologically inspired “The Sun God and the Boy He Loved.” Paul Ford (i.e., Apollo) blames himself for the death of his partner, Hy Nguyen (Hyacinthus), certain that he is the one who passed on the retrovirus (the deadly discus) that brought Hy to the hospital. But evidence proves that these mythical parallels go only so far. Hy actually has suffered the worst betrayal any human can endure; his story resembles more the myth of Meleager. The author’s introduction to the collection is informative about the Mahu series and where these stories fit. It is disconcerting that the copy of the book I bought has the odd-numbered pages on the left.