Megan Casey reviews When the Dancing Stops by Therese Szymanski

when the dancing stops

This is advertised as a different kind of lesbian mystery, and it is. Brett Higgins is a young woman from the wrong side of the river in Detroit, who manages to work her way up to becoming the manager of a sleazy porn operation that has sidelines in drugs, lap dancing, and intimidation. She is as butch as they come, and as fearless. She also has a taste for 17-year-old babydykes.

If Brett doesn’t seem like a very sympathetic character it’s because she isn’t. And if the setting seems gritty and unappealing, it’s because it is. It’s hard not to get the feeling that Szymanski is making it as difficult as she can for the reader to like Brett and her job—and also that she seems to enjoy making the reader squirm. Well, an old professor of mine once told me that just because a certain book might not be to your liking doesn’t mean it’s not good. I’ve never quite agreed, but in this case, she might have a point.

For one thing, the author’s use of roving third-person point of view is one of the best I have seen—it may even be considered omniscient, which is the hardest POV to work with. The reader experiences what is going through the minds of several characters, but you are never confused about who is doing the thinking. She also limits herself to the points of view of only the important characters—which might seem a no-brainer, but evidently is not. The book is tough and honest and gives us a view of a world we rarely see in lesbian mysteries–or anywhere.

The problem is, though, I just don’t like Brett Higgins. The fact that she can get any lover she desires irks me, but I know enough about human nature to realize that this is not impossible; not even implausible. Many of my friends have gone off with people that I can’t for the life of me respect. It happens. But when Brett gets the hots for Allie Sullivan I can only watch with dismay, because Allie is one of the only halfway sympathetic characters in the book. I watch the relationship unfold with the eyes of a disapproving mother.

Along the way, Brett’s best friend and ex-lover are both murdered. Later, her boss it also murdered—allowing Brett to take over his shady business. She vows to find out who murdered them, but at the same time an obsessed cop with a vendetta against Brett vows to prove that Brett herself is the killer.

The book has twist after twist and a fairly surprising ending. Yet the climactic scene is not rendered very clearly and is improbable and forced. Yet none of this really maters—most denouements in mysteries are implausible, and we know which way this one is going to go anyway, even if the author has to transform the personalities of all the main characters midway through the book for it to happen. Everybody ends up questioning their life choices at the same time. Well, call it growth if you like.

As an intellectual, I would give this book a 3.5 or a little higher. As a reader, less than 3. As Allie’s mother, I am going to have to call my lawyer and have a new will drawn up. The original Naiad book was republished by Bella with 100 fewer listed pages. I’m sure it would be interesting to see if the book has changed much and to see how Brett fares in the next book under different circumstances. But I fear I am going to have to learn these things second hand.

For more than 175 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

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