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 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

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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

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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

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 Chicken Run by Alma Fritchley

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Letty Campbell, ex insurance agent, becomes the owner of a small chicken farm in the small town of Calderton, a half hour outside Manchester, U.K. . When the niece of a neighbor asks her to introduce her shy but recently-out-of-the-closet aunt to the lesbian scene in the nearby large city, Letty finds herself smitten with the woman. But also, through a series of coincidences, she also finds herself hosting a big-bucks automobile auction at her farm.

The most curious thing about this mystery is that is doesn’t seem to be a mystery at all. With only three chapters to go, the only unexplained happening is Letty’s suspicion that someone broke into her house for no reason and stole nothing.

As lesbian mystery novels generally go, the sex in this one is rather tame, with the the horrid word “after,” beginning more than one paragraph. But this is certainly no surprise in a mystery that is generally classified as a cozy. The writing is simply adequate, the mystery kind of nonexistent, and the humor—much praised in the blurb—muted at best.

I’m terrifically glad I was able to get hold of this book so I could judge it for myself. It is one of the few cozy lesbian mysteries and a welcome change from some of the blood-and-guts dramas and high-octane sex I have found in several other lesbian mystery novels. Still, I doubt I’ll go on to the next one in the series. Quite frankly, I didn’t find Letty very interesting. And when your main character is bland, your book tends to be rated less stars they the author might wish. There are four of these “Chicken” novels, all written between 1998 and 2000. I suspect that Fritchley gets into a better stride in the next novel, makes Letty use more of her wits, but that is for another reviewer to decide.

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 Femme Noir by Clara Nipper

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I read Nipper’s latest book, Murder on the Rocks, before I read this one. That was a mistake, because the two books are so different in quality. In fact, I began Femme Noir thinking that it would be really bad. It is not, although the two books have several elements in common. First, both take place in good old Tulsa, Oklahoma, although Nora Delaney, the main character in Femme Noir is a visitor while Jill Rogers (from Murder on the Rocks) has lived there all her life. Second, both are butchy. Third, both like to play with fire (oh oh; have I just uncovered some symbolism? I wouldn’t be surprised)—Nora has a habit of lighting wooden matches with her thumbnail while Jill snaps a ubiquitous Zippo lighter open and closed throughout her adventure. And both think about sex approximately 40 hours every single day. Both are minorities: Nora is African-American; Jill is Native-American.

Well, the good news is that Femme Noir,is better than Murder on the Rocks, although to actually call it noir you have to alter the word’s definition. It is more in the tradition of books like Jaye Maiman’s I Left My Heart, where the protagonist is called to another city when an ex-lover is murdered. In this case, it is a woman that Nora lived with for three years in Los Angeles before the woman moved to Tulsa. In the course of Nora’s investigation—the police are rarely, if ever, mentioned—she finds out a lot about her ex-lover that she didn’t know.

She also learns about the 1921 Tulsa race riot—which was one of the worst in United States history—in which the most affluent black community in America was burned to the ground, dozens were killed, and hundreds arrested. As Nora’s research continues, she finds reason to believe that her ex-lover’s murder is directly related to that fateful event almost a century earlier. It is an important inclusion, but it is not the only thing that brings this book up above the ordinary. Many of the scenes that include people she meets in Tulsa are fresh and humorous; a scene in an alternative bookstore featuring a lesbian on roller skates is one of the funniest in the literature. And the second half of the book is just plain well written. There is no trace of the unfocused author of Murder on the rocks.

It is not all good, though. Otherwise it would have won prizes, right? It was enough for Nora to look into the Tulsa race riot without having her new white friend Jack go into a tearful, drunken tizzy when he even thinks about it. And Nipper has a bad habit of having her protagonist drop everything to go into an almost pornographic fantasy about Max—her current love interest—although I have to admit that the last time she does this is a hoot. The rest are superfluous and boring. Think about it: reading about sex is not as exciting as actually having it, but reading about someone thinking about sex is another layer removed from the real thing.

There is something about this author that intrigues me. On a personal level, I like the fact that she works for the safety of animals, that she is a roller derby queen, that she feels it is important to let her readers know about the Tulsa race riot—which had been hidden from public knowledge for 90 years—and that writing is the most important thing in her life. I think it is interesting that Nipper—who some might describe as a voluptuous blonde if her pictures do her justice—makes her protagonists minorities. It is even more interesting that the love interests of the both protagonists—Max and Sophie—are not only almost interchangeable, but they are described as voluptuous blondes.

Give this one anywhere between a 3 and a 4 that you wish. I’ll say 3.7. Both of these Noir Series books are currently available as e-books at a very reasonable price.

For 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 Mrs. Porter’s Letter by Vicki P. McConnell

 

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Mrs. Porter’s Letter , published in 1982, is one of the first four lesbian mysteries ever printed—and only the second to develop into a series. It was followed over the next several decades by hundreds of other novels featuring lesbian sleuths. Yet the novel’s influence seems small in comparison to some of f the other early authors of lesbian mysteries, such as Eve Zaremba (who created the private investigator Helen Keremos) and Katherine V. Forrest (whose police detective, Kate Delafield has become an icon). Few critics seem to have paid much attention to McConnell. Either no one was influenced by the book, or no one bothered to read it. What a mistake, because it is decidedly and mysteriously different from almost everything that came later.

The book, featuring fledgling writer Nyla Wade, is on the surface a modern Gothic search for the owner of a desk that Nyla comes to possess, although it has a very noir subplot involving the murder of a prostitute. Most important, though, it is Nyla’s search for her own intellectual and sexual identity. This is very rare in a genre dominated by out-and-out dykes, closeted (like Kate Delafield) or not (like Helen Keremos). Nyla, throughout most of Mrs. Porter’s Letter, is neither.

In fact, Nyla is one of the few protagonists in the lesbian mystery genre who has been married to a man. But Nyla is divorced now and living on her own, getting back into her first love—writing—both for a living and as a creative outlet. To this end, she buys an antique desk, which turns out to contain the spirit and essence—not to mention some love letters—of its previous owner.

Nyla is an intriguing and very likable character with more moxie that I had expected. McConnell, her creator, is adept at showing us her many sides, including very real fears about a single woman living alone in a dangerous city. Luckily, Nyla has a best friend, Audrey Louise that she can discuss things with. McConnell draws Audrey Louise, with her flummox of a husband and three complaining children, with a sympathetic pen. Although Nyla has strong feminist leanings, it doesn’t seem as if she has even given the slightest thought to the idea of identifying as a lesbian—until she actually meets a few.

The novel takes Nyla on a thousand-mile journey to search for the writer of the letters she finds—and to unravel the 30-year history of a hidden love affair. In the process she is finally able to realize why her marriage was not a success and why she has such powerful feelings for a woman she meets in a bar.

Slipshod editing in places is to be expected in early Naiad Press books, but the ones found here rarely detract from the enjoyment of reading. But the lack of seamlessness to the story is another matter. A good—or even a decent and sympathetic—editor, could have guided McConnell through the complex plot and suggested ways in which it would actually achieve more cohesiveness and believability. As it is, the reader gets the idea that McConnell began the novel with no real idea how to end it.

With this and other problems, it can’t be ranked among the best in the genre, but its early publication date makes it a must for students of the lesbian mystery genre. An additional quirk is the fact tat this book and its two sequels are illustrated—probably the only lesbian novels I have seen that are. Sadly, all of McConnell’s books seem to be out of print and unavailable in e-book form. This needs to be corrected.

For 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