Susan reviews Devil’s Rock by Gerri Hill

Devil's Rock by Gerri Hill cover

Gerri Hill’s Devil’s Rock is both the beginning of a new series and the resolution of a storyline from her Hunter series (which I reviewed here at the Lesbrary: Hunter’s Way, In The Name of the Father, and Partners). Unfortunately, I don’t think I can do this review without spoiling some of the events of Partners, so please bear that in mind!

Andrea Sullivan is a small-town police officer, confident that nothing as terrible as what happened to her in LA can happen in Sedona… And then the murders begin, because a serial killer who escaped the police in Dallas is using Sedona as his dumping ground. FBI Agent Cameron Ross shows up with her own set of issues, a kitten, and a motorhome full of FBI supercomputers to help figure out where he’s going to strike next.

The story itself was interesting, and it was nice to get some closure on the case from Partners, but some of the developments specifically about the murderer I just found myself just going “No. She can be serious. WHAT.” at, because they read as soap-opera style out-of-blue tricks of convenience, rather than actually feeling organic to the plot of either book. There are parts that are tense and dramatic, but an equal number that appear to have been set up for things in the sequel (such as mentioning that the motorhome is an electrified mobile fortress, which you’d expect to be tested at some point! But alas, no.) Although, I admit, I did periodically have to check when this book was published, because the idea of having to drive a computer around – not a crime lab, or anything else that would require you to be on the scene, an actual computer – seemed like something out of the eighties.

The thing that probably bothers me MOST about this is the way that Cameron Ross treats Andrea Sullivan. It’s not just aggressive flirting or posturing, although it contains that; at one point, Sullivan says that she doesn’t want to talk about her past with Ross, so Ross not only orders an FBI background check, but taunts Sullivan with it and blames her for it in a shocking display of “well if you’d just done what I wanted, I wouldn’t have invaded your privacy.” She’s like that about their relationship too; Sullivan says she’s not interested in kissing her, but Ross refuses to accept that because obviously she knows better. And worst of all, even though Sullivan repeatedly calls her out as a bully, it’s all for naught, because the narrative consistently rewards Ross with whatever she was bullying Sullivan for! Yeah, sure, Ross apologises, but ugggh. It doesn’t help that after Ross gets the files on Sullivan, Sullivan obviously stumbles across them and reads them (because of course) and the conversation ends with her apologising for invading Ross’s privacy. I get that it could be the narrative trying to model behaviour for Ross, but it was aggravating, and made it hard to accept the romance as a happy thing.

Devil’s Rock is a fine set-up for a new series, but I didn’t enjoy most of the romance tropes it used. That outweighed the mystery aspects, so I don’t recommend it.

[Caution warning: murder, kidnapping, abuse, bullying, mentions of infidelity, mentions of sexual assault, ableist language]

Megan Casey reviews She Died Twice by Jessica Lauren

She Died Twice by Jessica Lauren cover

This is another winner for New Victoria, made even more impressive by the fact that the author was only 25 when she wrote it. On the surface, it tells the story of Emma Kendrick’s childhood friendship with Natalie Mercer, who suddenly disappeared at the age of eight. Over the years, Emma buried the image of Natalie somewhere deep within her. But when Natalie’s body is found, seventeen years later, Emma’s memories begin to return.

The story is told from Emma’s point of view but from two time frames. In the present, Emma is asked by one of Natalie’s old neighbors to look into her death. So, despite her own reservations and that of her best friend Carly, she begins to ask questions. No, this isn’t a thriller in which Emma eventually and stupidly finds herself alone with a killer. Rather, it is a story of loss and love and friendship and abandonment, as Emma loses first her father, then Natalie, then her girlfriend Judy. Even her friend Carly is thinking of changing jobs and moving to a city far away.

But there are also chapters in which Emma has vivid memories of herself and Natalie in the past: in their hidden fort, playing house, talking of the future, just being together in the cold, lonely world. She begins to remember specifics that she had never thought about before—the fact that Natalie once showed up for school with a cast on her arm, her fright at having to leave her home to visit her father after her mother has remarried, the memory of Natalie leaving the school counselor’s office—memories that make her think that Natalie might have been abused.

Although there are lots of lesbians in this one, there is no romance and no sex; the book doesn’t call for it. There are a couple of glitches that I am mentioning only in the hope that Lauren reads this and corrects them in any new editions. First, there is a page in which Emma remembers her grandfather having a serious talk with her when she was 14. In the next paragraph, she tells her mother that her grandfather died when she was 12. A second glitch is just an omission. Emma meets Pat Carroll, an older lesbian that she has admired for years, not only for her work in the women’s movement but for her startlingly good looks. When Carly tells her that Pat has the hots for Lauren, Lauren simply doesn’t respond. My god, she has to at least have some thoughts about that. For the record, although I pegged the villain on page 22, I did not guess the murderer. But that’s okay, Emma didn’t either.

As far as I know, Lauren, who, like Natalie, was abused as a child, managed to calm her inner demons and live a normal life without having to resort again to literature. Give this one as close to 4 stars as you can without going over. It should be on everyone’s to-read list, although maybe not as high on that list as some others.

Note: I read the first New Victoria printing of this novel.

Another Note: See my reviews of over 250 other lesbian mysteries at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Megan Casey reviews Murder in the Castro by Elaine Beale

Lou Spencer, your normal, tomboyish young Englishwoman, has fled to San Francisco to escape a bad relationship in her home country. Five years have passed, and although she has been celibate the entire time, she has found a meaningful job as office manager for a LGBT Crisis Management Center. But when one of the Client Advocates is murdered in his office after hours, her rather insulated existence is disturbed to the max. All the indications are that this is a random hate crime, but is it?

A literary theory professor I know once said that whether or not a reader likes a novel has little to do with its importance. I don’t like Madame Bovary, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that Flaubert didn’t influence generations of writers. Elaine Beale isn’t Flaubert, yet my friend the professor’s tenet still holds true. I didn’t care for the novel, yet I realize that there are many things unique and, yes, important about it. Let’s start with these.

First of all, this is what I might call a Movement novel: one that chronicles some form of LGBT or women’s politics in the last years of the 20th century. Think of Vicki P. McConnell’s The Burnton Widows, Barbara Wilson’s Murder in the Collective, or Mary Wings’ She Came Too Late. Chronicling the history of this movement is important not only for what the movement accomplished, but because it was so relatively short, coming in with the hippies and out with the yuppies. Beale gives quite a nice description of an office whose purpose is to help gays and lesbians who have been abused on the street or in the home.

The second excellent thing about this novel is the mention of same-sex domestic abuse; Lou has come to the U.S. to escape from her abusive girlfriend.  While many lesbian novels focus on the abuse of a female character by a husband, father, or other family member, few lesbian authors feel comfortable confronting abuse in their own domestic partnerships.

The mystery, too, is an interesting one. I found myself wanting to know who the killer was, although an observant reader could have guessed who the culprit was on page 22

It is a fast-paced novel, moving quickly from one clue to the next. To the author’s credit, she uses similes instead of plain description. Unfortunately, a lot of the comparisons are overstated, such as when, at a local news conference, Lou describes the media as being “like sharks at a feeding frenzy,” or “if I ever became mayor, I’d not only make car alarms illegal, but possession of them punishable by several years hard labor.” Most of these turns of  phrase could have been (and probably should have been) used to better effect somewhere else. Like in a stand-up comic’s routine.

The investigating officer is homophobic to the point of cliché. Although this is not so unusual in lesbian mysteries (see Kate Delafield’s first partner)—or even in real life—it just isn’t very interesting or pleasant to read about them. Unlike Kate Delafield’s partner, who seemed real, with a real family and real plans, there is nothing distinctive about this man, which tells me that the author really didn’t know her characters as well as she should have. The ending, too, is obviously staged for effect, not coherency. Give her a half star for bringing up same-sex domestic abuse, but take it away again because she only refers to it obliquely—she never really takes us as deeply as she might have into Lou’s abusive relationship with her ex.

All in all, there is nothing terribly wrong with the writing, or the characters, or the mystery, or the romance. The writing style and point of view are similar to that of Mary Wings. In fact, Wings also wrote a book with The Castro in the title in the same year as this one. Fans of Wings and Sarah Dreher will probably like this book. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of either. You know how you sometimes meet someone and the two of you—like me and Flaubert—just don’t click? It is the personality of the writing—and necessarily of the first-person narrator—that keep this book from getting more than 3 stars. But that is still a fairly good rating, considering.

Note: I read the first New Victoria printing of this book.

Another note: See my full reviews of over 250 other Lesbian Mystery novels at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Vacation Reads by Julie Thompson

Part of the idea behind selecting summer reads is vacationing from our jobs, whatever they may be. I’ve already taken my longer vacation, tramping up and down the streets of San Francisco. Now, I squeeze in the odd long weekend here and there, scouring stacks of unread books for the one (or two…or five) that will share the quiet moments with me before bed or as I lounge on the back porch of a cabin rental, surrounded by trees and birdsong. Recently, I stole away into the mountains bordering Canada and Washington State. I managed to pack *only* three reads: Vital Lies by Ellen Hart, Wade in the Water by current United States Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, and a back issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact magazine.

Vital Lies, Hart’s second cozy mystery featuring amateur sleuth and restaurateur Jane Lawless, takes places as far away from sunshine and beaches as you can get. However, if you’re plastered to your couch in a tank top and short pants, a Minnesota winter might be just what you need to cool down. Jane and her best friend, the inimitable, Cordelia, spend the Christmas holiday visiting a friend with a rural inn. It is immediately apparent that someone is trying to sabotage its success, as disturbing incidents occur. On top of it all, Jane must decide whether she wants her English aunt Beryl to come live with her. I read this one out of series order, but I’m glad I chose it for a restive, secluded woodsy weekend. Hart has a great talent for placing readers within the scene, whether it’s among snow drifts, onstage, or at a college sorority house.

All I Want for Summer by Clare Lydon coverAll I Want for Summer by Clare Lydon, the fourth book in her “All I Want” series finds London-based Tori and Holly heading to Brighton Pride to help promote their friends’ lesbian dating app. I downloaded the novella on the 4th of July, eager for a distraction from the incessant booming and crackling of neighborhood fireworks. The women, who are challenging themselves to break out of their comfort zones, end up in involved in a series of misadventures. Holly, however, is a reluctant camper and Pride attendee (for painful reasons that end up playing a role in her holiday trip). Through it all, Tori possesses a sense of determined optimism that no amount of shenanigans can derail. A surprise ending might entice me to pick up the next book in the series, All I Want for Autumn. While I haven’t read the rest of the series, it didn’t prevent me from enjoying the novella as a stand-alone. Lydon, who also hosts a fantastic interview podcast called The Lesbian Book Club, sets up character chemistry and offers a peek at Pride at the English seaside that’s a mix of humor and drama. Once Upon a Caravan is another light, quick read from Lydon that also involves trying new things over a holiday.

Megan Casey reviews For Every Season by Frankie J. Jones

When I pick up a Bella book, I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t just assign it a rating of somewhere between a 2.5 and a 3.5 and go on to something else. I’m talking about Bella originals, now, not reprints. I usually come around to the hope that I might run into something really outstanding, something that would be a credit to the genre, but the fact that none of the 24 books in my Top 20 list are Bella originals tells its own tale. Of course, reading average or bad books is as much my job as reading good ones. Where does For Every Season fit? Well, it doesn’t; it is surprisingly good.

Andi Kane is at the end of a nowhere relationship when she is laid off her job at the phone company. Tail tucked firmly between her legs, she returns to her parents’ home in San Antonio to get her head together and look for another job. But somehow her grandmother railroads her into looking into Andi’s great-grandfather’s murder conviction sixty-five years previously. This despite the fact that she has no experience in sleuthing and that three private detective agencies have already failed to exonerate him.

One of the good things about this book—and there are may—is the fact that at first, there seems no way in hell that Andi can unearth any new evidence about a crime that happened before even her mother was born. But through diligence, luck, and the help of some new friends, Andi just might manage it. And in a way that is both believable and interesting

In the meantime, Andi has become attracted to the district attorney, who also has an interest in the case. What happens between them is the sub-crux of the story—one that spans at least three generations. It is hard not to like Andi—we have all been at a crossroads in our lives, guilty over our perceived failures and anxious to travel down a new road. The small, fictional town of HiHo, Texas is a hoot, as are a lot of the people in it.

It is a well-written, well-edited, and well-investigated mystery. Bravo to Bella for breaking out of the mold of their own making. Give this one somewhere around a 4 and recommend it to your friends, as I am doing at this moment.

Note: I read what seems to be the first printing of the Bella edition.

Another Note: See my full reviews of over 250 other Lesbian Mystery novels at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Megan Casey reviews The Girl in Gold by Beth Lyons

I recently received a couple of review copies of books in which the private investigator protagonist has paranormal powers. The first, Geonn Canon’s Underdogs, has its shape-shifting PI use her powers to do surveillance for a client in the first few pages. Perhaps I should have read on, but using paranormal powers to solve a case—or any part of a case—is verboten as far as lesbian mysteries go. The mystery genre should be a cerebral one—one in which, ideally, the reader can empathize with the detective, weighing clues and solving the mystery concurrently with the detective. Because readers are not canidae, it is difficult to empathize in Canon’s book. In other words, a dog can watch a house without arousing suspicion; a human cannot. So for me, the book became primarily paranormal.

So it was with some foreboding that I began The Girl in Gold, in which 23-year-old part-time P.I. Vox Swift is an elf.

Vox seems to be one of two employees of Boleian Investigations, the other being Boleian himself. She also works as a messenger for a family business called Swift Messengers, which was fortunate, because during one of her deliveries, she becomes aware of a murder. Seems that the victim—dressed loudly in gold—has just been discovered in the library of a famous author. Then, the same day, another girl about the same age and size—her face unrecognizable—is also discovered.

Vox is studying to be the type of magician called a Bard, which is one who sings songs as she investigates, asking the universe as it were, to help in her discoveries. The first time she uses this magic, she is simply trying to ascertain if magic was used in the murder. To me, this was okay—the magics were canceling each other out because, in fact, there was no magic used in the crime. But when Vox questions a maid in the house where the murder was discovered, she uses a charm that causes the girl to spill everything she knows. This was a no-no. It’s not something a human detective could do. So the book can not be truly considered a lesbian mystery. Rather, it is a lesbian fantasy. But I had already read five chapters so I went on. Later, she casts a spell to find a secret door where she can eavesdrop on an important conversation. Shake my head.

The idea of a town that had humans, fae, elves, and dwarves living in relative harmony was a good and interesting one. Vox herself has promise, and her budding relationship with the human paladin Jesskah Morningstar was tantalizing.

Still, in rating the book just for myself and for whoever reads this, just about everything about it gets a 3: the mystery (which everyone solves before Vox dose), the writing style, the relationships, the emotions, and even the universe are all above average, but just barely. It isn’t something I can’t recommend, but neither am I going to warn you away any more than I have. Those readers who specialize in reading lesbian mysteries are going to like it less than those who prefer fantasy.

Note: I read a review copy of this book kindly provided in ebook form by the publisher through Lesbrary.

Another Note: See my full reviews of over 250 other Lesbian Mystery novels at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Megan Casey reviews The Ultimate Exit Strategy by Nikki Baker

Hmm. This book was published by Bella Books in 2001, which would have made it one of their first publications. This means that for some reason Baker bailed on Naiad, who had published the first three books in this series. Naiad was subsumed by Bella two years later. The copy I read for this review was probably the only printing.

The fourth and last Virginia Kelly mystery takes place in the world of finance. The company Virginia has been working for since college, Whlytebread, Greese, Winslow, and Stoat, is about to be subsumed by a larger firm, Gold Rush Investments. This will make most of the Whytebread employees, including junior partner Virginia, fairly rich when they trade in their old company shares. There’s just one problem: Whytebread’s CEO, Wes Winslow, is murdered just a few days before the merger is scheduled to take place. If the murderer is not found, the deal will not go through. So Virginia sees it as her duty to solve the crime.

Like Baker’s other books, this one is too good to miss. Her flashbacks—often within other flashbacks—are not your basic narrative, but she manages to do it flawlessly—the reader always knows exactly where the story is going. Virginia is her old ironic self and her BFF Naomi Wolf is back to keep Virginia on her toes. To complicate the investigation, Virginia gets taken up with Detective Cassandra Hope, an old flame she would heartily like to rekindle. Then there is her faltering, long-distance relationship with Spike, who we met in Long Goodbyes. Virginia suspects that Spike is using her for her expectations and that Cassandra is using her to solve the case.

The British novelist C. P. Snow was a master at conducting dialogue without using actual quotations. Passages like: James was astonished when I told him that I knew his sister from my days at Cambridge. He told me that he had no idea that I had attended school there. Other novelists have done this as well, especially those that were not very good at rendering dialogue. But Baker goes Snow one better, blending active and passive conversation. Here’s an example in a conversation between Virginia and Naomi:

“I called Spike tonight and I broke up.”  I’d thought it was the best timing, considering Cassandra and all.

“Ok right.” Naomi picked up the mention of Cassandra as if it were a detail she’d forgotten. 

An article should be written on the best buds of lesbian sleuths. Certainly Naomi is at the top of the list, followed by Nyla Wade’s Audrey Louise and Jane Lawless’ Cordelia. Oddly, many of our protagonists’ BFFs are actually gay men (see Barbara Johnson, David Galloway, et al). Whenever Naomi is present, there is a spark—not only in Virginia, but in the story. Yet the reader senses that a romance between the two would be a mistake. In this novel, Naomi is trying to give up smoking, which makes her even bitchier than usual. And, as always, she figures out things just a little before Virginia does.

I have seen a review of this book that complains that Virginia is not black enough for the reviewer’s comfort. It reminds me of another review I read about a lesbian sleuth that was not lesbian enough. Virginia is a product of her time and her culture. She did not grow up in a ghetto, her parents were not divorced, and she completed a good college education. In fact, this is a brilliant portrait of a black woman who is trying to make it in the predominantly white profession of personal finance. The book does not dwell on Whitey vs. Blackie. It dwells on a sensitive and very intelligent young woman trying to survive in a world she has chosen. Bravo.

The Ultimate Exit Strategy is as good as the first three novels in the series, or at least it would have been if not for the sloppy job Bella Books did on both the editing and the proofreading. But the author has to shoulder some of her blame herself for not going over the final galleys more carefully (presuming that Bella provided any). The specter of HIV is thrust into the plot at the last minute and not only was it not foreshadowed, but it seems to come to nothing. Somebody missed something, or a couple of somethings. Like the half-dozen discretionary hyphens that pop up in the text. And the more-than-usual typos. In short, Baker made a mistake changing publishers. Maybe she thought that Naiad’s current editor would not be as good as Bella’s. She was probably wrong. Maybe the relative failure of this title made Baker rethink her aspirations as a writer. After all, she has published nothing else in over 15 years. Yet The Ultimate Exit Strategy does not end like the last book in a series. Like the author, Virginia ends up leaving her Chicago firm. Many adventures seem to lurk in the future.

Will there ever be another Virginia Kelly mystery? Who knows. But regardless, Nikki Baker is wildly underrated and underappreciated. Her books need to come out in new editions, including e-book editions. Give this book—and this series—a near-perfect rating, despite the editorial glitches.

For over 250 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 Long Goodbyes by Nikki Baker

This is the third novel in Nikki Baker’s Virginia Kelly series. It is an odd novel. For one thing, unlike her other novels, it isn’t a mystery. Nor is it a thriller or a romance or any of the other typical genres. Although Virginia Kelly is the protagonist and the story is told in her inimitable voice, the location and the cast of characters has changed. Yet, except for a slightly sloppy ending, Long Goodbyes could be ranked high on a list of literary novels

Virginia Kelly, has traveled from Chicago to her home town of Blue River to attend her 10-year high school reunion. Because her relationship with her girlfriend Emily in Chicago seems to be over, Ginny becomes fixated on Rosie Paschen, her first love and her first lesbian dalliance, who has contacted her after a decade of silence to beg her to attend the reunion. But Blue River is not the same as it was when Ginny was a girl, nor are her friends. “I imagined many pasts in my home town, as many as there are individuals, as many as there are points of view. If they took up space, in the air overBlue River there would have been a huge traffic jam of individual perspectives returning, making it hard to avoid unfortunate accidents of colliding perception.

Ginny is looking forward to her meeting with Rosie  in order to complete an unfinished transaction, to show courage where she once felt fear. But when the two finally connect, Rosie is distant and standoffish. Ginny’s r near-obsession causes her to initiate sex with a reluctant Rosie anyway. And then Rosie completely disappears. The book is Ginny’s attempt to find her and make the kind of connection that she has been fantasizing about for years. Something that she hopes will validate her life and everything she has done up until this time.

Although Baker introduces Ginny’s parents and high school BFF Sandra, I missed the laconic Naomi Wolf, Ginny’s bud from Chicago. Without her, this novel is darker and more brooding, more desperate and haunting than the first two novels in the series. And I think this is the point. Ginny’s search is our search; the same search animals might make when looking over the fence or across the road or wondering what is on the other side of the mountain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Baker conceived this novel as a stand-alone, with someone other than Virginia Kelly as the protagonist. But it works as it is and I was glad to connect with Virginia in a different setting. It must have been a difficult book to write—and to edit: Katherine V. Forrest missed a couple of convoluted paragraphs and seemed to be unable to get Baker to cut out unneeded scenes or characters—such as her gay friend Emery from high school. He was an interesting character and I would have liked to see him in another novel, but in this one he was extraneous. At 235 pages, Long Goodbyes is more than 60 pages longer than In the Game, which is a gem.

Despite its shortcomings, Long Goodbyes is a good addition to the Virginia Kelly series, and to lesbian fiction in general. It shows us another side of Ginny—one that most authors would hesitate to write. Anyone who is turned off by anything in the first two novels will certainly be turned off by this one. But for those of us who like Baker and Ginny, Long Goodbyes is simply another pleasure.

For over 250 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 Lavender House Murder by Nikki Baker

The Lavender House Murder by Nikki Baker cover

The second installment of the Virginia Kelly mystery series finds Ginny and her friend Naomi vacationing in Provincetown. Both are having girlfriend problems and simply need a break from their daily grind. But soon after they arrive, a famous lesbian journalist is killed in an alley. Seems that the woman was a gay rights advocate who believed that outing other LGBT folk—especially white-collar ones—was for their own good and the good of the cause. Now who would want to murder her? Well, the list is a long one.

The list should also be long for people who should read this book. Like In the Game, it has adventure, romance, and some of the best internal dialogue anywhere. Virginia Kelly, financial analyst by day and cruising lesbian by night, waxes poetic about her failing relationship with her lover Em. “There seems to be an irresistible force that causes all my relationships to self-destruct after a prescribed number of years. A kind of siren song that makes me want to hurl myself over the precipice into infidelities and deceit. And “What I wanted was a woman as flexible as builder’s putty to fill in the empty spaces in my life. I wanted a woman as large as a circus tent to wrap around me and keep me safe . . . to make a home for me in the ugly world. ” I can go on and on about Baker’s writing skills. Here’s a description of one of the suspects: “Her face had taken too much sun on its way to middle age, and her eye makeup was pastel blue. It was a school of beauty that had lost out in recent years to realism.” Ginny is sardonic, almost jaded—interesting but odd traits for a woman under 30. Through her introspection, The Lavender House Murders becomes not so much a question of finding a murderer, but of finding out about the world and solving questions in her own life.

While staying within Ginny’s point of view, the first half of the novel flashes back and forth between her and Naomi’s arrival in Provincetown, and Ginny’s discovery of the body a day or so later. It is tricky writing, but she pulls it off grandly. Baker’s cast of characters—all lesbians except for the obligatory gruff police officers—are varied and well-drawn, although a little clichéd at times. Ginny and Naomi are unique and thoroughly engaging, as is the lifestyle the author pictures with fine detail.

A similar book—one about a lesbian Bed & Breakfast in a coastal vacation spot—Death at Lavender Bay, was probably influenced by The Lavender House Murder. Even the titles are similar. This one is way better. In fact, this book was better than the excellent first novel in the series. Stay tuned for my review of the third next month at this time.

For over 250 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 G reviews Far From You by Tess Sharpe

Sophie Bishop was clean when her best friend Mina was murdered before her eyes. She’d been clean for nine months, two weeks, and six days. Not that the police or her parents believe her, especially considering the evidence to the contrary found in her jacket pocket. Everybody thinks that Mina’s death was a drug deal gone wrong, but Sophie knows different. She knows Mina was murdered; what she doesn’t know is why. But now that she’s out of a stint in rehab that she didn’t need, she’s determined to find out.

Published back in 2014, Far From You was not originally marketed as an LGBTQ+ novel. The blurb on the back gives no explicit indication that Mina and Sophie shared any form of romantic attachment, other than a cryptic mention of a “secret” they share. Despite all this, Far From You does not read like a typical “gay plot twist” novel, because that is not the point. Mina and Sophie’s relationship is hinted throughout the book, and explicitly revealed about 40% of the way through. The point of the novel is Sophie trying to solve the murder of the girl she loved. There is no double plot twist where we find out who murdered Mina and that she and Sophie were lovers at the same time. All things considered, it could have been dealt with a lot worse.

Because of the inherent plot of the novel, I’m sure you won’t be surprised by the warning that this book deals with a dead lesbian. It also deals with a character who is a drug addict, having become addicted to pain killers during her recovery from a traumatic car accident, which left her permanently disabled. This second aspect of the novel, while dealt with in depth, does not mention that not all people who take this type of narcotics will become addicted to them (and the author, Tess Sharpe, is aware of this and has discussed it on her twitter). So, if this is a trigger point for you, I would recommend avoiding this novel. Tess Sharpe has also talked about the problematic aspects of the dead lesbian trope on her twitter (though I am having trouble finding the link to that thread right now). Hearing her talk about these issues is actually what encouraged me to give this book a try. Knowing the author is aware of the problematic aspects of her stories makes me more interested in reading them, as I know that any future writing will most likely avoid those same tropes.

A couple more warnings about this novel include some ableist language (mostly spoken by a disabled person about herself), and a lack of diversity in the characters. It is set in a small town, so the fact that nobody’s skin colour is described heavily implies complete whiteness. As well, there are no fat characters, or any character’s that live outside the gender binary. Again, this can be explained by the small-town setting, but still bears mentioning. There is also some explicit violence, and [major spoiler warning] talks of a sexual relationship between an underage girl and an adult. [end spoiler]

I’m a lover of all murder mystery, and that aspect of this novel did not disappoint. I love when I cannot guess who the murderer is, especially since, after all the murder mysteries I’ve read, I tend to suspect everybody. This time, I was caught off guard. The second plot twist was a little less shocking to me, as I felt [minor spoiler warning] that the character wasn’t as developed, and therefore the reveal made less of an impact. Still, Sharpe does a fantastic job of slowly unraveling the mystery, and keeping you guessing until the very last moment.

The characters are fantastic. Fleshed out and flawed. Sophie makes for an incredibly dynamic lead. I was happy that her disability is continuously dealt with throughout the book, instead of shoved under the rug or forgotten. She also makes for a fantastic witness in a murder mystery, considering how unreliable she is based on her drug problems. Of course, if that weren’t the case the police would have solved the mystery a lot sooner, but what would be the fun in that? Also, I find it very important to point out that Sophie explicitly calls herself bisexual, which surprised me for a book that wasn’t originally marketed as queer.

Overall, this book is fantastically written, and provides a host of dynamic (though, admittedly, homogenous) characters. It is emotional and will probably have you reaching for the tissues more than once, as it’s portrayal over the grief of losing someone you love (especially someone nobody knew you loved) is incredibly real. Head the warnings, but if you enjoy YA fiction, and murder mysteries, as well as well-developed bisexual characters (who also happen to be disabled!), then definitely give this book a try. I promise it will make you smile, even as it breaks your heart.