Megan Casey reviews Only Lawyers Dancing by Jan McKemmish

I’ve had to create a new shelf for this one called Lesbian Crime Fiction. There is a lot of crime in this book, and a couple of lesbians, but nobody actually solves a mystery or a puzzle. At least, I don’t think they do. The fact is that Only Lawyers Dancing is so literary that it’s often difficult to follow the thread of the several stories that are going on simultaneously. The author uses first person present point of view not only for Frances Smith, the lesbian protagonist, but also for her co-protagonist, Anne Stevens, a straight woman. And for Anne’s boyfriend Harry, who may or may not be a mobster. But she also goes into third person at times, but told as if one of the other characters is relating it. And stream of consciousness abounds.

Anne and Frances are very old friends from two very different backgrounds. Anne’s father was a policeman while Frances’ was a crime boss. One of he recurring narratives in this book is a crime that took place over two decades earlier—one that eventually led to Anne’s father having a nervous breakdown. But despite the fact that these murders are referred to again and again, they seem to have no relation to the rest of the book, which is mostly concerned with a well-known hit man named Max hiring Anne to make him look good in court. The rest of the book deals with various criminals connected to Max and their relationships to both Anne and Frances.

But McKemmish did not write Only Lawyers Dancing for the plot or the story. She did it because she loved writing and the opportunities it often offers to bend genres. She wrote it because she loved words and the many possibilities they give to communicate ideas in different ways. Think of a hybrid between the prefaces to the chapters in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic movie Blow-Up, and Clare Sudbury’s odd crime novel The Dying of Delight. But don’t really expect things to make sense. The author knows exactly what she is doing and isn’t shy about letting us know it. “The trouble is you keep expecting it to make sense, like a serial moving tortuously slow through the labyrinth of side plots and byways toward an order, a clarity, a closed book.”

In some places the writing is pretentious, in others it is engaging and downright brilliant. Like, “ . . .the new week looms like a mountain in the mist when you’re on a cheap-fare-to-Europe aeorplane and hoping, hoping hoping that the radar works.” But there is murder, embezzlement, theft, and even a kidnapping on the way to denouement. It’s not certain what satisfaction the characters get from all this, but we can only hope they all live happily ever after. I give it 4 stars.

For over 250 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

Susan reviews In The Name of The Father by Gerri Hill

In The Name of The Father by Gerri Hill is the sequel to her 2007 novel Hunter’s Way (which I reviewed here at the Lesbrary!), with Hunter’s newest case being investing the murder of a Catholic priest, complicated by publicity issues, homophobia, outside interference, and the attempts to bury any suggestion that the victim may have been in a consensual gay relationship.

In The Name of The Father is… Definitely not as enjoyable as Hunter’s Way, but it does have plus sides. For example, there is less onscreen rape and transphobia here, which I will take as a win. It does also resolve the potential issues that come from Hunter’s and her girlfriend Sam being work and romantic partners. (This solution does manage to effectively sideline both her and one of the two named PoC on the main cast, which isn’t a great look.) The fact that Tori and John (one of the other detectives) have mellowed in the year since Hunter got together with Sam is also a nice touch, although it might disappoint people who were enjoying an angry, aggressive heroine. Plus, In The Name of the Father introduces a new detective, Casey O’Conner, who is smart and energetic, and who I find quite charming! The way that this book expands the cast and its focus works quite well for me, especially because seeing how all of the different characters react to the PR manager for the church is really interesting.

I think that the relationship are quite well-handled too, and quite different – Hunter and Sam are an established couple, very much in love, having to deal with being separated for the first time since they got together and the insecurity that comes from that, while’s Casey’s romance is much more focused on the physical side of things. Plus, the friendship between Hunter and Casey is pretty great.

However, I have so many problems with the constant attempts to cover up and dismiss the murdered priest’s life, both on the part of the church and on… Pretty much anyone who is not a police officer? If you have hit your limit on how much pearl-clutching you can deal with, I would give this one a miss, seriously, especially as there’s some really repugnant views expressed (Like bringing in Casey from the Special Victims Unit, to give the impression that the victim wasn’t in a relationship). I’ve also mentioned that the way this book handles its PoC bothers me; one character is sidelined with Sam, one barely gets any lines, and and rest I feel are handled quite stereotypically.

As a note: I found that the ending just didn’t hold together. Without spoilers: I like denouements where the villain’s master plan is revealed, but the way that In The Name of The Father handles it is infuriating. The way that the mystery shakes out makes everything that led to it feel entirely wasted! The way that the book itself ends feels like the narrative was trying to have the moral of “You can’t beat the system” to go with Hunter’s storyline, while also having emotional catharsis, which means that doesn’t deliver either. Your mileage may vary!

On the whole, I’d say that it’s worth picking up if you enjoyed the previous book, but it has some significant flaws to be aware of!

Caution warnings: constant consideration of sexual abuse and rape, mentions of child abuse, homophobia (in the church and out of it).

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-nominated media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Susan reviews Hunter's Way by Gerri Hill

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Hunter’s Way by Gerri Hill revolves around two homicide detectives: Tori Hunter and Samantha Kennedy. They are the classic opposites buddy-cop duo: Hunter is aggressive and antagonistic, burning through six partners in seven years but apparently being a good enough detective alone to make up for it. Samantha Kennedy is on the surface a much more personable officer who has to juggle a new job, a demanding boyfriend, and Hunter.

There are a lot of moving parts to this book; the relationships between both Sam and Tori and Sam and Robert, a suspected terrorist attack, drug busts, and a serial killer attacking young lesbians. With so much going on, it’s only inevitable that pacing seems a little odd – beats of the crime that you’d expect to have more resonance or time spent on them (for example, the death of a named character who had been helping the investigation gets barely a page and is never mentioned again), and some scenes are repeated over and over (such as Tori’s emotional conflict about getting close to Sam, or Robert’s constantly contacting Samantha and saying he’ll take it to dinner.). I appreciate that the former is presumably to make room for everything else, and the latter is to emphasis how terrible Robert is as a partner, but taken together it seems odd.

The pacing does leave enough room for Sam’s slow realisation of her own sexuality, which I appreciated a lot. Sam trying to work out her own feelings by talking to people and reflecting on what she wanted seemed quite reasonable and realistic to me, even if some of the responses were disappointing. It especially entertained me that some of Sam’s ideas about lesbians appeared to be quite stereotypical; there’s a scene where she has to go undercover at a gay bar, and her idea of appropriate wear is mostly her normal clothes, but no bra; other people’s feelings may vary!

I like the way the relationship between Tori and Sam builds as well; they have complementary skills, and once they start bonding (over escaping from armed men!), I enjoyed reading about them getting closer. The characters of everyone who isn’t Tori, Sam, or their commanding officer are left a little sketchier though; even some of the plot critical characters like fellow detectives Adams and Donaldson are given only the barest scrape of personality. I don’t feel like the mystery seemed to be handled quite as well; the resolution seemed rushed and the escalation to be very sudden; there are quite a few revelations that could have been seeded into the story before the last couple of chapters, and that might have evened the pacing up a little and given some of the blander characters a little more depth.

(Or a related topic: all of the murder victims are queer. There are a number of young lesbians who are murdered, and a trans person is murdered and the investigation is handled badly. Please bear that in mind if you’re going to read it!)

SPOILERS AND CAUTION WARNINGS IN THIS PARAGRAPH: Sam is raped in the middle of the book, and I’m not going to lie: it’s not great. I can’t shake the impression that it was put in as a way to establish that Robert is an awful human being (his immediate response is to make her rape all about him and his feelings, I hate him.) and force Tori and Samantha to get closer. I feel like the same effect could have been achieved from the scene where Tori getting shot? But on the plus side, no one suggests that the attack on Sam has anything to do with her lesbianism, which is something that I was braced for all the way to the end of the book.

Hunter’s Way is mostly enjoyable; it’s a queer police procedural, and that’s what I want. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and I’m very excited to read the rest of it!

Caution warnings: murdered lesbians, there are some transphobic comments and police mishandling of a trans person’s murder; onscreen rape.

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-nominated media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Susan reviews We Go Around In The Night And Are Consumed By Fire by Jules Grant

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We Go Around In The Night And Are Consumed by Fire by Jules Grant is wonderful. It revolves around a group of lesbian gangsters in Manchester, which is the perfect intersection of two of my interests and my hometown in ways that I didn’t even know I wanted. Donna and Carla lead the Bronte Close Gang, an all-female and all-queer group of gangsters who sell drugs and work with other gangs in the area… Until Carla helps her lover, the wife of a rival gang-leader, escape an abusive marriage and gets killed in retaliation. From there, Donna has to try to keep her gang together, support Carla’s ten-year-old daughter Aurora, and get revenge for Carla’s death.

It’s really good.

The story itself is tense and dramatic, although I don’t feel like it sticks its landing (Aurora’s storyline wraps up a little too easily, and the ending of Donna’s was actively disappointing in how it resolved.)
The characters are really well-handled; even the minor characters are built up from tiny details lthat layer and layer until the story ends up with a gang of fierce, supportive women who are well-described and well-built as characters. Donna and Aurora especially are so believable in voice and character – Aurora in particular feels like such a kid, trying to be responsible for the adults around her and messing it up because she is ten. Believably and convincingly ten, and her reactions to everything that happens breaks my heart. (She does make some unintentionally racist assumptions while trying to prove that she’s not racist though, fair warning.)

The relationships are amazing. Donna and Carla’s relationship is complicated because of all of the things they had and were to each other (there’s so much trust and love and history and frustration in their relationship) and all of the things they weren’t. Donna loves Carla painfully and can’t admit it; Carla adores Aurora; and the Bronte Close Gang are so close and protective of each other. Speaking of the gang; I was so delighted by the fact that the Bronte Close Gang is also part of a network of queer communities! I’m used to stories that have tiny queer communities, maybe half-a-dozen people at most? Even in the specifically queer lit! So having this beautiful network of groups and individual communities blew my mind, especially the moment when Donna put the call out and got such a response.

The narrative voice and style were my favourite parts, and they really worked for me. It is a very stream-of-conciousness narrative, which may not work for everyone. The entire book is in present tense and there is no speech marks at all; the dialogue is entirely woven into the narration ( never got confused about what was speech and what was narration, but your mileage may vary). The effect is quite lyrical, and feels a little like someone sitting down with you and just talking. Plus, the voices of this story sounded right to me, this was recognisably how my family and I talk. (I’ll be honest; I don’t live in Manchester any more, but reading this book made my accent revert like I’d never been away, and I don’t think I can praise a book’s voice higher than that!)

Jules Grant also writes very recognisably about Manchester; I knew so many of the places and streets the characters go through, and my specific part of Manchester even got a brief nod! I can’t speak to how it reads to someone who isn’t familiar with the city, but for me it felt very true to life.

I have seen concerns before that the inciting incident for the plot is the murder of a queer woman, but I think that We Go Around In The Night handles it the best it could be handled. Carla dies, but it is treated as the tragedy that it is. Plus, it doesn’t feel like a “Bury Your Gays” death; Carla’s death is not specifically because she’s queer, nor is she the only queer character in the story. All but maybe two of the adult women in this book are queer, which meant that Carla’s death didn’t feel like a point about queer characters and their role in fiction.

I genuinely enjoyed this book, and if you enjoy lesbian crime fiction with strong character voices, I definitely recommend it!

TRIGGER WARNINGS: Queer death, offscreen spousal abuse, drugs, violence, child endangerment (runaway, kidnapping, neglect), unintended racism

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-nominated media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.

Whitney D.R. reviews Goslyn County by AM McKnight

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This was a labor, and not one particularly of love.  I really wanted to read this because it was two black women, one a detective, the other an FBI agent–both lesbians– falling love as they solve a joint case.  I love a good cops/FBI crime book and then to add older Black lesbians, which is hard to find in the lesbian romance genre?  I expected to LOVE this.  SHOULD have loved this.

But this was just boring. Capitals B-O-R-I-N-G.

It was very realistic with regards to Maureen and Olivia. Two women just getting to know each other, going on dates, figure out each other’s likes and dislikes. I liked this aspect of the book a lot. Though I didn’t feel like their conversations were all that natural. I don’t know, maybe they were. It’s been awhile since I’ve progressed passed date three.   This isn’t a romance, really.  At least, it didn’t feel that way to me.  There was a crime to be solved and these two women just happen to be lesbians that start dating.  And maybe that was Knight’s intention.  Chapters go by before a first date, then a second and third, then we fast forward a month and two and they’re already in love.  What?  I needed more relationship development than that.  Especially when there was more focus on these idiot criminals than our main women.  

There wasn’t a single character that I was invested in, not even Olivia and Maureen.  There were too many points of view, too much head-hopping.  Too many players on the board, too many motivations.

I understand that Goslyn County was a crime drama, but the aspect of this plot was so dull I skimmed the majority of it.  You have a detective and an FBI agent teaming up on a case about the robbery of a crooked taxes preparation place? Snooze city.  There could have been a more exciting case.  Olivia and Maureen could’ve teamed up on a drug bust, since meth labs  were apparently so prevalent.  Or trying to catch a serial killer.  Hell, the perps could’ve committed a major heist of a bank or jewelry store and that would’ve been more exciting.  But all that for robbery and taxes when there wasn’t even a body count?  All criminals must be brought to justice, I guess, but I just couldn’t feel the “high stakes” of the chase to make me want to root for either bad guys or good guys.  

Honestly, the lack of high stakes suspense and the easy solutions were my biggest issues with reading this.

Marthese reviews Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

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Emma Donoghue is a phenomenal writer take is able to make you related to her narrative. So when I heard about a new book, I knew that I will someday buy it and read it especially one with such a nice cover!

Frog Music is a historical fiction with some basis in reality as it deals with an unresolved crime. It is based in 1876 in San Francisco and it follows Blanche, a French dancer. Blanche lives with her lover, Arthur and his friend Ernest. She is also friends with one Jenny Bonnet, who ends up murdered in the beginning of the book.

The book follows Blanche in her misadventures as she tries to do what’s best while at the same time searching for answers. Who killed Jenny? Who was Jenny?

Jenny is an interesting character and we get to see her through the story that swings between the past and the present. She’s a butchy character with seemingly no care in the world, but as later Blanche discovers, Jenny had a lot of mysteries surrounding her. Comparatively, Blanche is an open book. She’s a survivor and we see her character grow and mature in the book. Blanche is a character that may infuriate the reader, but one cannot help but pity her in turn.

I think this book should come with a lot of warnings. There is explicit heterosexual activities, some consent issues, victim blaming and slut shaming to begin with. Moreover, there was some gore (there was a murder after all), racism and neglect. A lot of the characters will make you angry as well but I thought that their actions were representative of their times and their believes and were realistic. I went through the last chapter really quick, I must have missed reading mystery and detective novels!

There is queer content in the book, but it comes up later on in the book. Frog Music in general has a lot of interesting thoughts on power dynamics, gender, race, consent and sexual activity, it is also a well done historical fiction book that shows its research and turns it into a vivid account of what it was like living in San Francisco in 1876.

Although I felt uneasy reading some scenes, even in the very beginning where there was gore and seemed like a horror scene (I don’t do horror) I thought that overall the themes were done well. It is an adult book, with adult themes that made me think about how it was to live life in those conditions; from clothes to housing to jobs and vehicles. The story was hooking and things were tied well. Like a good detective story, hints were there for us to notice later and leave us guessing until the very end. The end was not perfect, but it was fitting. It wasn’t happy but it wasn’t sad.

I recommend this book highly to readers that can stomach hard themes. The writing style is just exquisite. You will find yourself repeating sentences just so you can experience the writing again! I would give it as 5 stars for being a historically accurate crime story, whose background in reality was also interesting to read about (and Emma Donoghue did go out of her way and provide us with her research on the story, songs and glossary) and dealt with themes that are still relevant and good to question today.