Megan Casey reviews Edited Out by Lisa Haddock

Edited Out by Lisa Haddock cover

It would be easy to just say that this is a really good book and that you should put it high on your list of things to read. but I guess that would be shirking my responsibilities as a reviewer. But if you’ve read any of my other reviews you’d know that several things catch my imagination when I read, three of which are the writing, the plot, and the characters. Edited Out is written in the point of view most favored by lesbian mystery authors, first person past—“I did this, I went there” etc. It’s a good point of view because it brings the character closer to the reader than standard third person limited or omniscient. But it is also an easy POV to make mistakes in because it most easily reveals a character’s personality. And if you don’t like the personality of the main character, chances are you won’t like the book.

I like Carmen Ramirez. She is the daughter of a Puerto Rican dad and a mom of Irish descent. After her mother’s death when she was still a baby, Carmen was sent by her dad to live with her racist, homophobic, and bible-quoting grandmother in Frontier City, Oklahoma—a very thinly disguised Tulsa, complete with a famous evangelist and religious university. Somehow, Carmen has come through her girlhood strong enough to embrace her sexuality and to land a job as copyeditor for the local newspaper. But when she is assigned to work on a story about the murder of a young girl by a lesbian schoolteacher, she must make the hardest decision of her career.

When I first read the description of this book, I was hesitant to open the pages; it was bound to be filled with depressing scenes of homophobia and confrontation. But Haddock manages to turn the story in a completely different direction. Even when Carmen interviews a number of unsavory characters, she does it with such style that even if her questions are not answered, I felt I had nevertheless learned something important.

Like many lesbian detectives in the genre, Carmen is running from a bad relationship (see Claire McNab’s Kylie Kendall, Elaine Beale’s Lou Spencer, ad infinitum). She has been very shy of getting into another until she meets college student Julia Nichols (who reminds me very much of a young Aimee Grant in Katherine V. Forrest’s novels), who identifies as straight. Their developing romance—as well as Carmen’s love/hate relationship with her grandmother—give balance to the book and intersect with the plot in important ways. All the elements combine for an exciting—and hopeful—finish. It’s hard not to credit editor Katherine V. Forrest for the smoothness of this book, especially after having just read several Naiad books edited by others.

There is a lot of religious stuff here but again, Haddock uses the subject as a literary device without actually proselytizing or bashing. Remember that the book is set in Bible-Belt Oklahoma, where churchgoing is as natural as breathing. Does it get a little over the top sometimes? Well, maybe, but there are some enjoyable parts, too, like when Julia argues scripture with her fundamentalist cousin in order to rescue a confused young woman from a room filled with Prayer Warriors. And maybe there are a few too many coincidences in the solution, but hey, doesn’t every mystery have these?

And here’s a question for someone to write an article about: why do so many lesbian mystery protagonists have a gay man as their best friend (not counting their lovers of course)? Carmen has one. So does Bill in Joan Opyr’s books, Lamaar in David Galloway’s Lamaar Ransom, Private Eye, Barbara Johnson’s Colleen Fitzgerald, etc, etc. Is this true in real life? Very few, like Nikki Baker’s Virginia Kelly and Vicki P. McConnell’s Nyla Wade, seem to have same-sex best friends.

Ultimately, Edited Out is a really good book and you should put it high on your list of things to read. In the same league with She Scoops to Conquer, give this one a 4+.

For more than 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

Megan Casey reviews The Other Side of Silence by Joan Drury

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Tyler Jones is not the most social person in the world, so when she wins the Pulitzer Prize for journalism for a feature story about spousal abuse committed by members of the police force, she goes into semi-retirement, writing her newspaper columns from home. Because of her urgent concern about violence against women, she also spends time at a crisis center. But although her research and counseling brings her into contact with many forms of violence, her own life is rather uninteresting and predictable. That is until she finds a dead body in the park while out walking her dog.

The characterization of Tyler is very subtle, and we often have to rely on small clues to get a true picture of her. We know that she broke up with her last lover ten years before and that she is more comfortable working at home than at an office. This may be explained by the fact that she describes herself as “hefty,” “robust,” and “fat.” Not in the way a fashion model might think she has to lose a pound or two, but because Tyler is truly overweight. Yet she mentions this only in passing—never dwells on her weight issues. We also know that she is a recovering alcoholic who is often badly in need of a drink. The fact that Drury gives us no backstory on any of this is an omission that might be rectified in the two subsequent books about Tyler Jones.

Here’s another thing we know about Tyler but have no real backstory on: she has little use for men (except for her contact at the newspaper) and blames them for much of the violence that goes on in the world—especially against women. As she says, “I am, with reason, suspicious about men—especially when it comes to violence.” In fact, Tyler makes her living writing about the subject. She produces a weekly column for her newspaper and is writing a book-length oral history. And hey, Tyler is a writer who actually writes. We are not just told about a column, we get to read it, too. Likewise chapters of her book, which are convincing and heartfelt.

So does this mean that men won’t like this book? Umm. Many won’t, but that’s their loss. The history of feminism and the ongoing violence against women is a subject that everyone should take a serious interest in. The fact is, The Other Side of Silence is one of the most well-crafted mysteries I have ever read. It just continues to develop until the very unusual (but maybe not totally unexpected) ending. The fact that Tyler (and Drury, who was the editor and publisher of Spinster’s Ink for 10 years) have an important agenda is all the better.

The plot has to do with Tyler finding the body of a man in the park next to her house. The man happens to be a spouse abuser who once attacked Tyler physically when he found out that she was using her apartment as a safe house for his wife. Who would kill such a man? Everyone? Maybe it was Tyler herself—the police certainly think so. And of course to prove her innocence, Tyler has to uncover the perpetrator on her own. Unlike many books with this motif, however, Tyler’s experience and skill as a reporter gives her the tools she needs to actually investigate in a believable manner.

Oh, there’s a glitch or two, but they are so subtle it would be hard to prove they even exist. I’m willing to let them go and to give this novel a solid 4 stars. It certainly gave me reason to buy and read the other two novels in this series. It is one that should be on most people’s to-read list.

For more than 200 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

Megan Casey reviews The Small Town Series by Iza Moreau

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It’s not that hard to review an entire series of lesbian mysteries as long as you read them consecutively and within a fairly short time. Unfortunately for the genre, many series novels are just the same book written again and again with different minor characters who commit slightly different crimes. The Kylie Kendall mysteries by Claire McNab, are a case in point. Kylie solves cases for Australian clients while trying to find a way into her gorgeous colleague Ariana’s fashionable trousers—that’s pretty much all you need to know—and all you will remember. This is not to say that the Kylie Kendall mysteries are not enjoyable: they are. It’s just that there is no history in them; the characters do not evolve. Kylie is funny and uses quirky Aussie slang, but by the third book you are pretty tired of the same old.

The Small Town Series by Iza Moreau is quite different. In this literary, four-book series, the main characters age, mature, and even move on, all the while solving mysteries that range from quirky puzzles to serious crimes in their small community in north Florida.

In the first novel in the series, The News in Small Towns, Sue-Ann McKeown is introduced as a successful war correspondent in Iraq. She is called home to her small home town of Pine Oak, Florida after her mother dies in a riding accident. Burned out by the war and suffering not only from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but also from a debilitating illness called Graves Disease, she decides to stay in Pine Oak, the only job she can get being that of a lowly reporter for the town’s small newspaper. And if things are not bad enough, the business manager for the newspaper is none other than Gina Cartwright—her old high-school nemesis—who just happens to be dating the editor. And that’s when the fun—and the romance—starts.

And hey, Sue-Ann is not only a pretty famous reporter, she was once an alternate on the U.S. Olympic archery team: she carries a bow and she knows how to use it. She is also a dedicated lower-level dressage rider. She is helped in her adventures by an elderly, napalm-scarred Vietnam veteran called The Creeper who lives in a mysterious compound in the woods with other battle-scarred solders—and with his grandchildren Gamma and Smokestack, who are the main deejays in the pirate ratio station located within the compound.

Unlike McNab’s Kylie and Ariana, who seem to have been born with the word DYKE tattooed to their foreheads, neither Sue-Ann nor Gina initially considers herself a lesbian. Remember that they both grew up in the 1970s in a very southern, very rural, very homophobic area. One of the strengths of these books is that, in addition to being fast-paced adventures, the author chronicles the doubts and fears and surprises of both Sue-Ann and Gina as they grow closer and closer together. Their relationship, in fact, overshadows the mystery in the book, which has to do with the very odd subjects of animal sacrifice, voodoo, and parental neglect.

madness-in-small-towns-iza-moreauIn the second book, Madness in Small Towns, Gina disappears, and Sue-Ann, in addition to solving a couple of puzzling mysteries—one having to do with a murderous escapee from a mental hospital who seems intent on skewering her with a samurai sword—has to find her. As in the first novel, there is a chapter about Sue-Ann’s 6-month posting to Baghdad—the friends she met, the boozing she did, and the tragedy she experienced there.

The third book, Secrets in Small Towns—which delves into the shadowy subject of child molestation in halfway houses—shows Sue-Ann and Gina as a happy, but still-secret, couple. In a small town in rural North Florida, not only could neither afford to come out, but no one else could either, so they lived their lives in the type of vacuum that so many gay women and men in small towns find themselves sucked into.

Well, why don’t they just leave? For one thing, Sue-Ann loves her job at The Pine Oak Courier, especially after she takes over as editor in Madness. She is also reluctant to leave the farm that her mother worked so hard to build, and the horses that live there. But mainly it is because she has already had her moments of glory and excitement. She is no longer interested in reporting—or shooting arrows—on the world stage. Been there, done that. She simply wants a quiet life with Gina

Those who are familiar with Robert van Gulik’s series of mysteries featuring Judge Dee in 7th Century China, know that his mysteries make use of the ancient tradition of writing in that era, having Judge Dee solve several cases—sometimes unrelated—in the same novel. Moreau follows this tradition, although her plotlines always merge at the end. Each book includes a chapter flashing back to the Iraq war and generally shows her skill both with horses and with her bow and arrow. And, of course, with her developing relationship with her former rival.

The fourth book in the series, Mysteries in Small Towns, is a collection of short mysteries featuring Sue-Ann and Gina. Although this is not unusual in the general mystery genre—we are all familiar with Agatha Christie’s books featuring short stories about Poirot and Marple—it is rare in lesbian mysteries, with only one other author—Barbara Wilson—attempting to augment her series novels with stories. Moreau’s short stories are, unlike her novels, more traditional mysteries with more obvious crimes and criminals that have to be brought to justice.

So the series is important on a number of levels, but maybe the most rewarding is the evolution of Sue-Ann’s and Gina’s relationship. They go from assuming their absolute heterosexuality to admitting that they are interested in each other—but just in each other. They then run the rest of the gamut of suspecting that they may be bisexual to finally eschewing men altogether and accepting that they are lesbians through and through.

For those readers that dislike reading about heterosexual sex, be warned; there are a couple of man/woman couplings in the beginning of the first novel, The News in Small Towns, but they are included to provide a realistic background for both Sue-Ann and Gina. If the subject offends you, either begin with the second book or read something else. Author Moreau has posted on her website that there will be no further Small Town Series books, but the four that she has left us will probably be around as long as there are lesbian mystery readers.  All four are available separately as inexpensive e-books or you can buy all four for under $10 from most e-book retailers.

For more than 200 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