Megan Casey reviews Addict by Matt Doyle

Popular lesbian author Lori L. Lake has an interesting essay on pseudonyms and the reasons writers choose to use them. Oddly, she fails to discuss the use of pen names in lesbian mysteries. The omission is even more unusual because “Lori L. Lake” is, in fact, itself the pseudonym of a writer of lesbian mysteries. I don’t know her reason for using a pseudonym, but a number of other lesbian writers are simply afraid to be outed as lesbians, either at work or with their families. Nikki Baker is one of these, as is current superstar Lee Winter.

Then there are other writers—like Lake—who use pseudonyms for reasons unknown: Kate Allen, Radclyffe, Jae, Rose Beecham, Ellen Hart, and on and on. I’m sure that most of these women have good reasons for using false names to write under. But think of how different the reasons must be for a man.

As far as I know, Matt Doyle, who wrote Addict, is the author’s real name. But if that is true, it puts him in a very small category. My research shows that only a few male writers of lesbian mysteries use their real names—not including initials: Charles Atkins (a prolific author with many other books), David Galloway (a supposed literary writer), Mark McNease (whose lesbian sleuth is a spinoff from his popular gay detective series), Samuel L. Steward (whose two books about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are as much literary reminiscences as they are mysteries), and Jason Halstead (another prolific author with many titles).

J.T. Langdon and R.E. Conary are also men, but as far as I know, they use their real initials and their real last names. N.H. Avenue also uses initials, but his last name is also not his real one. A pertinent question is this: how many male writers of lesbian mysteries use female pseudonyms, and why? The answer to the first is ‘I don’t know,” and I may never know. But the answer to the second is obvious. Anyone who has read more than a handful of reviews knows 1. that most readers of lesbian mysteries are not only women, but also lesbians and 2. that many—not all and maybe not even most—lesbians want to read books by lesbians about lesbians. Period. They would pass up a lesbian mystery written by a man without even reading the blurb. Truth, folks.

I happen to believe that a good writer can write about either sex. Henry James wrote Daisy MillerThe Princess Cassamassima, and What Maisie Knew.Thomas Hardy wrote Tess of the Durbervilles, George Eliot wrote Silas Marner. I’m sure I don’t have to go any further because the list is endless. There is no reason why a man can’t write good lesbian fiction, but if they want to be rated based on the fiction rather than their gender, it’s probably pays to write under a female pseudonym.

Okay, let’s get to the review. Would my opinion of Addict be different if it were written by someone named Martha Doyle? Probably not, but the faults of the book are more with the story than with the characters. Like Jason Halstead’s Kat Wimple series, Addict is set in the future. Unlike Halstead’s books though, Addict doesn’t really feel like its set in the future. For one thing, his protagonist, Cassie Tam, doesn’t really like modern conveniences; she likes real blinds, for instance and normal furniture. You’ll find very little Blade Runner futureism here. The few futuristic things he mentions, like tech shifting and online addiction, are light on description. Cassie’s “protector,” a robot gargoyle named Bert, night must as well be a man or, as I have seen elsewhere, “a man substitute” whose job is to rescue Cassie. Even the modern city of New Hopeland—which I assume is meant to be something like the new city Elon Musk has envisioned creating—is given short shrift in its description. If something takes place in the future, we are going to need a lot more creation and a lot more description.

The mystery is quite a good one in theory, but on paper it seems overly—and unsatisfactorily—explicated. In other words, it’s hard to figure out what’s actually going on, even if we are told over and over. It’s the old showing instead of telling bugaboo. The author’s explanation of the mystery takes longer to tell than the denouement, and even that is dependent on our old friend, the seemingly normal person who is actually a criminally insane religious fanatic. In addition, the reasoning and execution of the crime is so convoluted that all you can do it blink and turn the page.

And I guess Cassie is a lesbian; she says she is and at the very end of the book she may even think about asking someone out. But again, she is a permutation of another of our old friends, a lesbian on the run from a bad relationship and terrified of being hurt a second time—although in this case, her old relationship is described as a good one and as far as I can tell without rereading, she wasn’t dumped by her ex. Oh well. In any case, the author is content with Cassie not having a real relationship. It is easier that way. Yet again, for lesbian readers this choice is far from satisfactory.

So regardless of the gender of the author, Addict is not something I can recommend. At less than 56,000 words, it is about 20,000 words too short. And those words could have been used to very good advantage to spruce up—and possibly eliminate—the problems.

Note: I received a review copy of this book that was kindly provided by the author in e-book form through Lesbrary.

For over 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website athttp://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 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 Slayer by Nadine LaPierre

Whoa. Here’s something I wasn’t expecting. I purchased The Slayer primarily so I could get free shipping for a recent book order. At the time I ordered it, I was not even sure that it was a mystery. The book, when it arrived, was an attractive size and it was well formatted—more accessible for my taste than the often-unwieldy RegalCrest/Quest books. Because it was almost certainly printed by CreateSpace, I assumed it to be self-published (under the aegis of Frisson Books. So far so good.

The prologue—although just as unnecessary as most prologues, was written better and held my interest better than most. Then we meet RCMP Constable Danielle (not Dannie, please) Renaud, who has left her birthplace near Quebec to take a job in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At first blush, she is simply Claire McNab’s Carol Ashton transplanted from Australia to Canada—an incredibly beautiful, statuesque out blonde with a hard-to-match work ethic. But I think Danielle is a more rounded, more-professionally written character than Carol. And she has a good backstory. She has a habit of speaking her ideas into a tape recorder: a convincing and fairly unique motif. So, still good.

In fact, once you get through the first dozen chapters and figure out who the characters are, The Slayer is a pretty remarkable book. On loan from her department to the Special Crimes Unit, Danielle is assigned to look into a cold case—the death of a nurse a year and a half before. Danielle digs into this seemingly impossible-to-solve case and manages to dig up a few new facts no one else had been able to find, while trying to juggle a personal life that includes no less than five women dancing around each other like mating birds. Misdirections abound—but they are misdirections well conceived.

The reader (along with Danielle) learns a lot about forensics and psychology without the author making us think of homework. Danielle’s knowledge of different types of data searches gets a bit forced, but everything else—including a knowledge of veterinary supplies and types of drugs—are spot-on believable. And hey, LaPierre knows her way around the bedroom, too; you can look forward to a couple of delicious sex scenes that are almost worth the price of the book (plus shipping).

The author takes a lot of chances and almost always gets away with what she attempts. The plot often careens like a tilt-a-whirl, but rather than thinking that there might be a method to the madness, I suspect that there is genius in that madness instead. The Slayer is simply one of the most well-plotted books I have ever read. Add this to a plethora of interesting characters and a total lack of typos, and you have the makings of a must-read.

But the book is not all gold and emeralds. It is difficult at times to figure out who is romancing who, a couple of these relationships are not properly brought to a close, there are a few clumsy point of view shifts, needless dream sequences are thrown in here and there, and don’t even get me started on the last paragraph!

All in all, though, it is an exciting and well-written mystery. I recommend this book pretty highly and wish the author would tweak it just a bit. And here’s a clue. Books published at CreateSpace are free to revise and the author doesn’t have to even buy any copies herself. Ditto for e-books. Second edition, anyone? As it is now, I’ll call it 3.7.

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

Megan Casey reviews Fearful Symmetry by Tasha Fairbanks

For me, good books are the hardest to review. I mean, it’s easy—and sometimes not even fair—to find flaws in the work of writers who really don’t understand writing, but what do I say about a writer who does? Sure, Tasha Fairbanks’ characters are good, her prose is compelling, her plot is exciting and unusual—but these are things that we expect from a good novel.

One thing I can do is to say what other books this one reminds me of. The scene and part of the fin de siecle tone is somewhat similar to Clare Sudbery’s sometimes-brilliant The Dying of Delight, right down to the literary title. What the book reminds me most of, though, is J.K. Rowling. No, not the Harry Potter books, but the others. The setting and multiple point-of-view shifts are reminiscent of Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy and the detective reminds me of Rowling’s Cormoran Strike, with his flawed character and his super assistant.

In fact, Sam Carter, trying to get over a failed relationship, is pretty down and out. She has an office and a drinking habit and that’s pretty much it. Her job as a private detective has been reduced to serving writs. But when an old acquaintance calls and asks her to investigate the murder of her foster daughter, Sam knows that she must clean herself up before she can clean up the case.

And what a case it is. It involves a runaway girl, a murder, a fertility clinic, a genetic lab, S&M, and a righteous, bigoted, right-wing church. But it is really the characters that move the story. Sam is steady, well-spoken, professional, and believable. Her bouncy sidekick—young reporter Sarah Ginsberg—has issues out the yin-yang: mother issues, boyfriend issues, career issues, even sexuality issues. But Fairbanks handles all her characters masterfully.

Lotsa characters and lotsa third-person points of view. In fact, one criticism I have of the book is that there are too many points of view. Some characters appear seemingly out of thin air and disappear just as quickly. It is distracting when you have to pause in your reading and wonder, “Now who is this character? Have I seen her before?” before realizing that it is a new character altogether.

Another flaw is that some of the important characters disappear without even a by-your-leave. Just because they don’t figure in the denouement doesn’t mean that we don’t want to know what happens to them. Finally, Sam’s love (if you can call it that) interest isn’t all that special. In fact, the sexual tension between her and two of the other characters is quite palpable while it is nonexistent in the woman she fancies.

So give this one as close to a four as you want to without going over. Less if you are as disappointed as I am that Fairbanks or her editors didn’t see Sam Carter and Sarah Ginsberg as worthy of a fine series instead of simply a one-off.

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 Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson Series by Sandra de Helen

The Hounding  (Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson Series Book 1)

Pastiche: “a literary, artistic, musical, or architectural work that imitates the style of previous work.” For decades, the word pastiche was commonly used to refer to stories about Sherlock Holmes that were not written by A. Conan Doyle. Perhaps the most famous is The Seven-Percent Solution, which was a best seller for Nicholas Meyer in 1974. More recently, Laurie R. King (who also writes lesbian mysteries featuring Kate Martinelli) has created the Mary Russell Mystery Series, which features the iconic sleuth. Holmes also appears in Carole Nelson Douglas’ Irene Adler series. In fact, Amazon.com lists over 7000 paperbacks inspired by Holmes.

As far as the lesbian mystery genre goes, characters based on Holmes and Watson appear in Nene Adams’ Gaslight Series, Olivia Stowe’s Charlotte Diamond Series, Debra Hyde’s Charlotte Olmes Series. There is more than a subtle similarity to Holmes and Watson in Iza Moreau’s The XYZ Mysteries, with Xande Calhoun as Holmes and her sister Yolande as Watson. There are stories about Holmes and Watson as lesbians and Holmes and Watson as gay. Now, Sandra de Helen has become one of the latest pasticheurs with her series about Shirley Combs and her friend Dr. Mary Watson. In the first novel, The Hounding, neither character is either gay or lesbian, or even hetero. But we’ll get to that in a paragraph or two.

We don’t hear the word pastiche much any more. Today, it’s called “fan fiction.” I suspect that The Hounding began as fan fiction, and perhaps that’s why it isn’t as strong as it could be. For one thing, the author makes over 15 references to Sherlock Holmes himself. A couple of the characters joke about the Sherlock Holmes/Shirley Combs vocal similarity. And the language sometimes is just too Holmesian (despite the story being set in modern-day Oregon) to be anything but fan fiction. Here are a couple of for instances:

“I have been engaged by Miss Goldenhawk Vandeleur to enquire into the circumstances surrounding the death of her mother, Pricilla Leoin.”

“Only a slight upward movement of Shirley’s left eyebrow would have given away her surprise, and only an observer as keen as Shirley herself would have seen it.”

Now there’s nothing wrong with fan fiction, which may be the newest literary genre. In The Hounding, the writing is strong and the mystery is worthy of the master himself. In short, a woman is mauled by dogs, causing her to have a heart attack and die. But who set the dogs on her and where are they now? Shirley Combs, private investigator and portfolio analyst, takes on the job of finding the answer. But unless an author is actually writing about the real Holmes and Watson, it is not a good idea to stick too close to the original.

There is little backstory about either Shirley or Mary. Both consider themselves asexual and both live alone: Shirley in Portland, Oregon and Mary in nearby Lake Oswego. And neither, unfortunately, seems to have a very interesting personality. Of the two, though, it is Mary—the primary narrator—who has the most promise. It is she who gets an odd feeling when she sees an attractive woman and it is she who continually questions her strange relationship with Shirley. Shirley seems to question nothing.

And I can’t let this review go without discussing point of view. As you will remember, most—but not all—of the original Sherlock Holmes stories are narrated in their entirety by Watson, who sees all and hears all. Holmes includes him in his adventures just so that Watson is in attendance, not only as a friend, but as an observer. De Helen knows this well, but often finds it difficult to insert her Watson into the action, although this action is important to the story. Here’s how Mary Watson explains her ability to do it. Evidently, like Archie Goodwin in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe detective series, Shirley has a photographic memory and is able to give a thorough account of her outings, as when Mary says, “she dictated her word by word account for me.” Then Mary continues, “I use my creative license to add what I imagine to be the thoughts and emotions of all the players.” She adds later, “It’s easy to imagine what happened next.” This is one of the cleverest point-of-view ploys I’ve ever seen, but it’s still a glitch in the artistry.

But that’s enough skating around. As fan fiction, The Hounding is as good as most–as creative literature, not so much. But despite everything, it is an interesting and well-developed mystery. I recommend it for any Holmes/Watson obsessives.

The Illustrious Client (Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson Series Book 2)

One of the many good things about this, the second novel in the Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson series, is that it stands alone very well. Conversely, perhaps the best way to review this novel is by contrasting it to its predecessor.

Let’s start with the Holmes/Watson comparisons. In the first book, de Helen refers to the original iconic detective no less than 15 times. Well, guess how many comparisons she makes this time? Answer: zero. What this means is that the author has become more confident in her talents and more creative in her thinking. Ditto about her “explanations” about inconsistent point of view. Although her narrative shifts once or twice from Dr. Watson to omniscient, the author genuinely tries to stay within Watson’s experience. Not perfect, but a vast improvement.

The plot is fairly complex, as was the previous book’s. Shirley is hired to dissuade a famous young pop star, Oceane, from her romance with international playgirl Zaro, who was once (while disguised as a male) a soldier in the Afghan army. But when Zaro is attacked with acid, the sleuth’s job becomes one of finding the culprit. Although, as I said, the story is a good one, the main merit of this book is the growth of Mary Watson. Although in the first book there were a couple of exquisitely tiny hints that Mary might not be quite as asexual as she believes, in this book she discovers, quite by surprise, her lesbian identity. Although from puberty, she assumed she was simply asexual, she suddenly found that “something had awakened in me,” when she met real estate agent Beth Adams. The idea of a romance—maybe even a sexual relationship!—causes her to gush, “I was excited to the point of near-hysteria.” This is really good stuff: details that are all-too-rare in lesbian fiction, although we have all been there.

A touch worth noting, Shirley’s new “administrative assistant” has the greatest first name in lesbian literature: Lix. Hopefully in the next book we will learn her last name and some backstory. And maybe some more about Shirley, too. Or maybe Lix and Shirley will get it on. Whoo weee. I can’t wait. And Lix should get her own series. You heard it all here first.

Finally—and I rarely comment on this—the formatting of the e-book for this novel is the most sophisticated I have ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot. It may presage the day when e-books can look identical to print versions.

Negatives? Well the POV thing is still a little glitchy, as is Shirley’s lack of real individuality. And now that Sherlock himself is absent from de Helen’s pages, maybe it is time to stray from rewriting actual or nearly actual Conan Doyle titles.

Bottom line, give this one close to a 4; it is certainly worth a read. With the author continuing to hone her talents, I am looking forward to the next one.

For more than 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website athttp://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 Ghost Network by Catie Disabato

This novel reminds me of everything, so forgive me if I drop more names in a short period of time that maybe I should.

The plot is a simple one: a world-famous pop star who calls herself Molly Metropolis vanishes in the middle of her tour. An obsessed journalist and fan, Caitlin Taer, is determined to find her. That’s it; that’s the plot.

But it’s also so much more. It seems that Molly has herself become obsessed with a French cultural group that were called The Situationists, led by a thinker named Guy DeBord. Their philosophy encompasses sociology, geography, architecture, and cultural theory. DeBord and his followers dreamed of building a new type of city which would ultimately foreshadow a new world. Caitlin and her girlfriend Gina Nix, who was once a top aide to Molly Metro, begin to study the writings of the Situationists in an attempt to locate the missing singer, who seems to have left cryptic clues as to her whereabouts almost everywhere. Among other ideas, the Situationists believed in the concept of detournement, which is basically the idea of “culture as common property.” In other words, one should be able to “take pieces of culture, like pop songs or photos of famous actors, and shove them next to or on top of other pieces of culture or cultural references, to create something new.” Kind of like “sampling,” but to the x power.

Bottom line: Disabato’s book is simply a concrete example of DeBord’s detournement. She is taking the ideas of her betters and shuffling them together to form something else. Let me explain in more detail.

I see so much here that is derivative. Disabato’s style is a lot like Thomas Pynchon’s . Molly’s disappearance reminds me somehow of Tyrone Slothrop in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. The secret Situationist group reminds me of Pynchon’s Tristero in The Crying of Lot 49. Many previous reviewers have likened Molly Metropolis to Lady Gaga, although many other artists could have done just as well—Miley Cyrus, Prince, Grace Jones, Elton John. I am reminded most of the protagonist of Pinball, Jerzy Konsiski’s underrated novel, about a flashing rock star who was purportedly based on George Harrison, although I saw the protagonist as Elvis Costello. In The Hermit of 69th Street, Kosinski uses a great deal of footnotes, ostensibly to prove that the writing is authentic. However as intelligent and well-read as Disabato is, I doubt she has read Hermit of 69th Street. or Pinball. More likely, then, she was influenced by David Foster Wallace’s uncanny Infinite Jest, which abounds in footnotes and secrets and cultural savvy.

Oddly, the story is mostly told by an aging English professor named Cyrus Archer, who has become interested in Molly’s—then Caitlin’s—disappearance. As an academic, Cyrus writes in PMLA style, much like a series of encyclopedia articles complete with footnotes. And if that does not distance the reader from the material enough, he, too, disappears and leaves his unfinished book to our author, Catie, who attempts to finish it for him.

Disabado’s invention of the Situationists is a wonderful sleight of literary prose, reminiscent of the even more brilliant philosophical system in Neal Stephenson’s gargantuan futuristic novel Anathem She is hitting all the bases, to be sure. Caitlin’s search for Molly is also somewhat reminiscent of the wonderful Lesbian Mystery novel Looking for Ammu, although, again, this is a book that the author has almost certainly never heard of.

There are at least two flaws to the book, one major and one almost major. The lesser flaw is an inability of the author to show Molly Metropolis as a real musical artist. We are told about (although we never actually see) her designing costumes, working with dancers, and even writing lyrics, but it isn’t obvious that she has any real musical knowledge or ability. We never see her wrestling with words, practicing an instrument, or trying to create melodies. It is as if she becomes a pop icon simply by willing herself to be one.

The main problem I have though, is in Disabato’s choice of point of view. We all know that third person point of view is less immediate than first person, but Disabato decides to filter what she tells us even more by having the narrator be someone not directly involved in the action. He is simply a researcher reporting what he finds out. Not only that, she then filters it even more by bringing herself into the story as a sort of overseer, giving us her opinions of what Cyrus Archer has written. Disabato’s attempt to be incredibly literary is obvious. She made a very conscious decision to distance the reader from the text. So give her a point for considering alternate point of view narratives; take off 1.2 points for her making the wrong choice. I like the characters of Molly Metropolis, Caitliln Taer, Gina Nix, and Nick Berliner—but I would like them far better if Disabato had allowed me to know them more intimately. Her footnotes make the text seem academic, although most of them are simply not necessary. So too, an academic style precludes much experimenting with words and language, but I suppose that the Situationists would consider any artistic attempt at using words as pretentious. I don’t. Literature is art, no matter how you try to disguise it.

The chances The Ghost Network takes force me—as a former academic—to give this book a solid 4 stars. But before you rush out and buy it, I recommend you start with any of the novels I have mentioned above. They are the real thing. Disabato is young and talented enough to, in time, write something comparable.

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 Black By Gaslight by Nene Adams

There’s a lot to say about this novel—both good and bad. It starts out like a house on fire but finishes in smoldering ruins. Here are some of the good things. First, there is the setting: 1888 London, smoggy, dark, and smelly. Lady Evangeline (Lina, or “the dark-haired lady”) St. Claire is an independently wealthy private investigator. She is tall and strong and versed in the martial arts, like Xena, who, along with Sherlock Holmes, is her inspiration. The Gaby/Watson character is called Rhiannon Moore, who Lina rescues from a life on the streets after falling in love with her at first sight.

In an odd twist, there is another Sherlock Holmes character that plays a big role in the novel. He is called Sherrinford Pike, who lives with his lover, Dr. Ormond Sacker. Lina’s love/hate relationship with Pike is charming and often hilarious. When she accuses him of shooting at her through a dressmaker’s window, he denies it, “even if I did once introduce a cobra into your sitting room. . . . Besides, I thought that you’d sworn not to mention that unfortunate incident with the air rifle again, St. Claire. . . . [and] the arsenic-filled bonbons were an honest mistake committed only once.”

And if that sounds a bit over the top, well, so is everything else in Black by Gaslight. Lina’s language is the language of Jane Austen squared—or maybe the language of the penny dreadfuls that Rhiannon delights in reading. “Rage beat at her and filled her veins with liquid fire. A red mist enshrouded her vision.” And to be truthful, the language is often so well—or oddly—crafted that it escapes being simply romance-novel drivel and often rises to the level of actual creativity. So does the relationship between Lina and Rhiannon. Both are smitten with the other at once, but neither thinks it appropriate to mention it to the other. And when their passion gets the best of them—as it does in strange situations, such as in a carriage when they are chasing a murderer—they will then play it down, or try to pretend it didn’t happen.

But it is almost as if the author gets tired of the novel halfway through. Repetition creeps in, as do inanities. The language becomes tedious, the amount of attention to describing Victorian-era women’s attire takes up too much space, the love story becomes sappy, important incidents are forced—rather than intelligently woven—into the plot, gore is splattered more-than-generously on virtually everything. And then there is the ending, where at least one of the women takes a series of actions so stupid that it defies even my imagination—which is one that has seen more than its share of ridiculous endings. It becomes just another Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the ripper novels, with Jack as someone that constantly hears the voices of prostitutes talking to him. Motivation? Backstory?

The main thing wrong with this novel is the same thing that is wrong with most independently published books in general and lesbian mysteries in particular: the lack of an even halfway-decent editor. Yes, this is an Uber novel and one that was almost certainly first posted to a fan site. And yes, fan sites are notorious for their unabashed enthusiasm for everything Xena (or everything Hermione or everything Kate Janeway) and lack of critical sensibility.

But lack of critical thinking bespeaks a lack of education, and a lack of education is the downfall of civilizations. If you don’t believe me, look around you. What’s worse, competent editors are very few and far between—it takes a great deal of study and reading to even attempt it, while university courses in the fine arts are becoming more and more unfunded. And let’s go even further; good editors command a respectable fee—as indeed they should—and few budding authors or even independent presses can afford one.

So too bad, what started out as a potential Top 20 List novel turned into something that I finished with a sense of relief. What could—with a very competent editor—have been rated near a 5 ends up at somewhere near a 3.

For 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 Dirty Work by Vivien Kelly

dirty-work-vivien

Jo Summers is kind of a social worker. She is the office manager of a London hostel for the disadvantaged. I’m not sure we have the equivalent in the U.S—halfway house, maybe—but the residents of her house are ex-drug addicts, ex-prostitutes, or abused men and women who have been approved to live in inexpensive housing until they can get back on their feet. When one of Jo’s favorite residents is found dead of an overdose, Jo suspects foul play of some kind. The police, of course—including an old flame—don’t agree, so Jo is forced to investigate the death on her own. Other deaths follow in short order.

In the course of her investigation, she is thrown into contact with a number of savory and unsavory characters—some of which she spends the night with. As in all good mysteries, one interview leads to another to another and to another until at last she seems to understand what the hell is going on. It is kind of a unique novel in that there is not a similar novel that comes immediately to mind. Maybe Looking for Ammu, although the resemblance is slight.

The best thing about this book is its consistent quality in every aspect of the writing. Jo’s first-person point of view narrative is a thing of beauty, such as when she describes the relationship between one of her friends and his lover: “to say that the two of us didn’t get on is like saying that Tom and Jerry had their little differences of opinion.” The descriptions of the hostel and of its work for the community are interesting and progressive. The characters are well drawn and the mystery is logical and puzzling. Few books are so well done A-Z.

Having heaped up those particular praises, I need to add that, although good, it is not a great book. The characters are not quite interesting enough, the crime doesn’t have that extra twist that brings it up to Poe level. Kudos to Onlywomen Press, who are “Radical lesbian feminist publishers,” for printing a book whose life may not yet be over.

The real crime here is that such a good book has not yet had a single review either on Amazon or on Goodreads (except mine). I’m going to go ahead and give this one a 4 plus. It may not be on the level of a Nikki Baker or a Kate Allen, but it is close. It’s not going to appear on many Top-10 lists, but it is a book I would recommend to you or anyone. And I can’t say that for many books I read. Get in touch, Vivien. Let’s get Dirty Work formatted as an e-book. And maybe we can share a bottle of Glenmorangie.

For 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 Megan Casey reviews Command of Silence, by Paulette Callen

command-of-silence

After reading only a few chapters of this book, I wondered why it was not a best seller. It has all the trappings of one. Think of the play Elephant Man: it is a less-than-wonderfully-written play, but the subject matter guarantees it a wide audience just as a train wreck guarantees a gaggle of rubberneckers. Command of Silence has that unique subject matter without being poorly executed. What a concept—a detective with multiple personalities. And it would have been so easy for the author to completely screw it up. She didn’t; instead, we see a wide range of emotions flitting through at least 10 completely different identities: a wisecracker, a caretaker, a monster, an artist, a child, an evil twin; hey are all part of Shiloh, and she needs all of them in order to succeed in her investigations. Or even just to get through a normal day.

I mean, when have you ever looked forward to the sleuth interrogating the suspects one by boring one? Well, I certainly did in Command of Silence. Shiloh is just so interesting that you look forward to seeing how the interviewees react to her.

And Shiloh is incredibly clever. The way she works out the solution to the mystery (which involves two abducted children) is superb, creative, and very exciting. All of the characters are well drawn and believable.

But toward the end of the book I found out the answer to the question I posed in the first paragraph. To be a best seller, or even to interest a major publisher, the final interrogations of the suspects would have to be more believable. As it is, the criminals simply break down in the face of Shiloh’s questioning, which to tell the truth, is less special than her earlier interviews. Nor is it in any way legal. In life, neither of the guilty parties would have been convicted. I feel that this is another example of an author getting a fine idea, then wondering how to work herself out of the corner she finds herself in at closing time.

So far, this book is not part of a series, and I hope this remains true. I feel that Callen has created something special that would tend to get old with more than one novel; that the personalities would just do the same type of bickering we were treated to in this one. I would far rather the author spend some time working on the dénouements to this one. To make it the terrific book that it could, with only a little rethinking, be.

Note: This book is actually only on the borderline of lesbian literature. Shiloh’s therapist is a lesbian, and I suspect at least one of Shiloh’s multiple personalities is, too. However, it was a finalist for the Lambda Award, and that’s good enough for me.

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 Red Rover by Liz Bugg

redroverlizbugg

I confess that I like this book a little more than I originally thought I would. Maybe it’s because I liked the design and feel of the Insomniac paperback version, which is very easy on the eyes. Or maybe it was the very professional pace that Bugg was able to adhere to throughout. I also liked the theme of the mystery, which involved the protagonist’s intense search for a missing young lesbian in Toronto.

Calli Barnow gives off reminders of many other lesbian private investigators without actually borrowing anything and without being given any remarkable qualities, such as Abigail Padgett’s Blue McCarron, who has no qualms about giving the reader her views on psychology or statistics, or Caroline Shaw’s Lenny Aaron, who specializes in cats and who knows every breed. Callie is just a normal 40-something woman trying to make a decent living for her and her partner Jess, and hoping that she doesn’t get into something dangerous. The one quirk that Bugg does bestow on Calli, though, is a good one. She has anxiety attacks that tend to almost paralyze her unless she pops a Xantax. I like that kind of human weakness in a character. And I like the backstory that helps to explain it.

In her search for the missing woman, Calli comes into contact with babydyke Lisa Campbell and almost falls for her. It is only her love for Jess—who is out of town during the entire adventure—that saves her from her roving eye. The trouble is, I really liked Lisa and, at first, wanted them to get together. Jess was kind of an amorphous telephone presence that did not let me know why she and Calli were together. Lisa, on the other hand—again, at first—was the most exciting and lively character in the cast.

Bugg’s prose is average, no pops and crackles, but she tells a pretty good, exciting story. Although I frown on the type of ending she chooses—I have disparaged it in several other reviews—Bugg does it with a little more believability than, say, Anne Laughlin. In all, it reads like a first novel, but one that lets the reader know that there are better times ahead. Put Calli on a list with other Canadian sleuths such as Helen Keremos, Harriet Fordham Croft, Jil Kidd, and Aliki Pateas. It’s not a bad bunch at all. I suspect—and hope—that you will be reaching for the second Calli book before any of those mentioned above.

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