Susan reviews Iron & Velvet by Alexis Hall

Cover of Iron & Velvet by Alexis Hall, showing a close-up of a woman's face with Big Ben in the background. She is pale, wearing red lipstick, and has a hat casting a shadow over her eyes.

Iron and Velvet by Alexis Hall is the first book in the Kate Kane series, following Kate Kane, private investigator, as she attempts to investigate the magic-induced murder of a young werewolf at a vampire nightclub (and hopefully avoids the three-way supernatural war that would result).

I absolutely loved it.

It’s very trope-heavy–Kate isn’t just a private detective, she’s a human(ish) disaster of a private detective; hard-drinking, hard-living, has just lost her (work) partner, constantly on the edge of going bankrupt, unlucky in love and everything else. She is also apparently catnip to the leaders of every supernatural faction that we meet, who all want her involved in their politics, on their side, within five minutes of meeting her. Absolutely tropey, but so refreshing to see this happen with a female character.

On top of this, many of the tropes it uses are subverted; for example, there is a casual take-down of the Vampire In A High School Dating Teenage Girls trope where the narrative makes it explicit that this is creepy. Plus, the the world building is really well done. The way the politics fits together is interesting, as is how werewolves work socially and how urban mages work at all, and seeing how the system maintains itself from the point of view of someone on the fringes is fun. Plus: most of the cast is queer, in all different ways! And the story manages to have both pulpy action, humour, and serious emotional moments all mixed up together!

I think I liked the romance–Julian, the vampire prince that Kate falls in love with, is charming and funny, even if their relationship gets intense really fast. I was not kidding about how quickly all of the leaders move! The way that she narrates her past as a story feels like obvious telegraphing, and in some ways it feels like her actions don’t always have the repercussions or impact I’d expect, but I really like the emotions around hers and Kate’s relationship, and the way the Iron and Velvet does specifically deal with the ripple effect this has on Kate’s social circle.

It’s not perfect, of course – I’ve mentioned that Julian’s narration sometimes tends to telegraph, but there are also developments that come straight out of nowhere to counterbalance them, and the ending is a jumbled mess. But it’s a jumbled mess that I love despite its flaws! In some ways, I love it because of its flaws, because Iron and Velvet is fun, pulpy urban fantasy, revisiting familiar tropes and making them queer. It’s excellent.

Caution warnings: Centuries old vampire dating a high-school girl; references to past stalking and abuse; assault.

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

Shira Glassman reviews The Rosebush Murders by Ruth Shidlo

Ruth Shidlo’s The Rosebush Murders is a lesbian thriller/detective mystery set in Israel. A woman is found shot in a park, and the police detective, a lesbian named Helen with a chatty narrative voice, sets to work unraveling whether her wife, psychology/IVF clients, or hospital colleagues could have had anything to do with it. I found it a solid whodunit in which it was easy to imagine the scenes and characters and get invested in the discoveries and solution.

Pluses:

  • Well-constructed thriller plot and I loved that I called some of the most twisted parts before the detective got there
  • Setting is Israel, so unlike a lot of thrillers, it’s sunny and warm so this Florida girl was right at home
  • Setting is Israel, so everything is sort of casually Jewish including in that secular way that America is casually Christian
  • Main character is a lesbian and there are several other gay or lesbian characters
  • Positive depiction of someone’s mom being totally okay with them having a lesbian wife and being cute about it
  • Main character and one of the other characters are classical musicians, so by that point I felt right at home along three or four different axes
  • I did not know German Jews are called “yekke” — being that I’m from that background on one side, I’m going to look into this more!

It does have a “dead lesbian”–the primary murder victim–but:

  • once I got past the initial sting of watching her wife and daughter grieve her it didn’t bug me as much, because the detective narrator is a lesbian, so there’s plenty of “alive lesbian” screen time
  • literally nothing about her death was gay-related.
  • The narrator gets into a relationship by the end of the book (note: this relationship felt relegated to the background and in the next book, set two years later, she’s dating someone else from this book with whom she had more chemistry. I didn’t care for the mystery plot of the other book as much as this one, though.)
  • In nearly every scene the way people interact with the crime shows her being treated the same as a straight victim, her wife being treated as a legitimate wife, etc.

Minuses

  • Casual fatphobia and (mental) ablism on the part of the narrator. None of this was integral to the story because it usually relates to her internal monologue about extremely minor characters
  • Sometimes we get to watch the narrator do mundane things like eat dinner with the kind of detail that doesn’t always contribute to characterization
  • Baffling use of italics for the word “sushi”–although maybe in Israel it hasn’t been adopted into the local speech the way it is here? Don’t know. Also, a German character’s accent is written out, which isn’t my preference but I ordinarily wouldn’t comment on it, but his mispronounced words are then italicized, which creates strange things like “zee” for “the”–if you’re writing out his accent, why italicize it? Especially if italics are for foreign words. Italicizing it makes me think he’s actually saying a word in his own language, so my brain switched over to German, where “zee” (sie) means she and then I just got confused. I realize this is an editorial decision and probably not under the author’s control, but I write these reviews for free so I get to say what I want 😛
  • This is not a minus but sort of a warning sign: there are unflattering comments made about Orthodox control of certain aspects of Israeli life, specifically in regards to how the murder victim’s wife feels about the funeral arrangements. This is an Israeli issue that as an American I have no desire to get involved in, but if you yourself are Orthodox I just wanted to warn you that the line is there.
  • Not a minus but a point of confusion: references to “a kid on Christmas” and someone swearing by saying “Jesus.” Maybe people in Israel do talk like this but I still noticed it. Again, that could be me being wrong.

Trigger warning for some really twisted medical stuff (don’t take this lightly and I’m happy to provide details but I’d rather do it privately since it’s a huge spoiler), and for a brief mention of Nazis.

Susan reviews Partners by Gerri Hill

Partners is the conclusion to Gerri Hill’s Hunter trilogy (the previous books reviewed here and here.), and it brings the trilogy round full circle. Casey, the detective introduced in In the Name of the Father, has officially joined the homicide department and has been assigned to partner new detective Leslie Turner on a serial murder case, which would go better if they didn’t find each other intensely distracting.

Okay, this book.There are things I genuinely quite like about it, so let’s start there. Sam and Tori, the detectives who started this series have hit a delightful stage of warmth and commitment–they’re buying a house together, Tori has adopted Casey as a sister, everything about the family that they’ve built is lovely. The revelations about Casey’s backstory and family history are very well done, because I was absolutely furious about it; “I don’t have a problem with homosexuality as long as it’s not my daughter” is an awful thing and the book acknowledges that very well. The way that Casey deals with it by building her own family felt very true to me. Plus I feel like the “hurry up and wait” pace of the investigation works quite well for building the character relationships and for representing police work a smidgen more realistically. It’s tense and dramatic when it needs to be!

(I think this nod to realism is why no one’s backstory gets resolved; Tori’s backstory was deemed unsolvable in the first book, and Casey’s officially given up on hers, which I can respect from a writing standpoint but am somewhat frustrated by as a reader.)

But despite the things that I like about it, it has some quite significant flaws that I have to mention. Please bear with me.

First and most obviously: the relationships. I mentioned above that I appreciated the family that is being created, but the beats Casey and Leslie’s relationship hit are remarkably similar to the ones that Tori and Sam hit in Hunter’s Way. Stop me if this sounds familiar: an openly queer detective falls reluctantly in love with a woman who a) is in a relationship with a sexist man that she does not love and b) has to contend with the fact that she is actually a lesbian. (Once again, bisexuality isn’t an option!) The reasoning for the characters is different, but it’s very similar, and I couldn’t honestly tell you if it’s a deliberate contrast of the value of support networks and/or realising that not being straight is an option, or just a retreading of the same story.

Second of all, I have some issues with the representation in this book. There is one (1) person of colour in this book, who does not any lines and is regarded with active hostility from one of the main characters for someone else’s actions in the first book. The depiction of mental illness is not great, with the character in question treated as a childlike innocent by both characters and the narrative (even though he is a peeping tom?) and SPOILERS: he is thrown under a bus for a neurotypical woman. And while we’re still doing SPOILERS: the murderer is assigned male at birth (it’s not clarified how they actually identify) and wears a dress to gain access to women’s apartments so they can commit murder. I know the book was written in 2008 and the author had no way of knowing that would be the core surface-justification of awful transphobic panic in 2016/17, but seriously. I am willing to anti-rec Partners on basis of that alone.

… Also while we’re doing SPOILERS, the ending is full-on “DON’T GO INTO THE BASEMENT THIS IS A HORROR MOVIE!” levels of nonsense, and it’s completely out of character. I was so annoyed.

The long and the short of it is that I don’t think I can recommend this book. There’s nothing wrong with it on a technical level, and the depiction of friendships and romance between the lesbian character’s is fine? But there’s enough going on around those relationships that I’d be uncomfortable recommending it.

Caution warnings: homophobia, transphobia, ableism, sexual assault.

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

Julie Thompson reviews Translucid: Dragonfire Station, Book 1 by Zen DiPietro

Translucid, Zen DiPietro’s first installment in her “Dragonfire” series, is a riveting space onion. And by “space onion”, I mean that Translucid is a tightly wound mystery, set on board the Dragonfire Space Station. No one is what or who they seem. Chief Security Officer (CSO) Emé Fallon awakens in sickbay with no memory of her personal identity. The shuttlecraft she piloted crashed into the side of the space station: an unusual malfunctioning coil pack, but nothing most crew members would consider anything but damned bad luck. Before her bed stand a distressed Sarkavian woman named Wren Orritz and a Bennite doctor named Brannin Brash (chief medical officer). Fallon’s initial confusion starts to sound like the Cars’ song, “Once in a Lifetime”. Who are these beings and why are they staring at me? Wren, it turns out, is her wife of six months, not to mention a high-caliber engineer on Dragonfire.

The how and why of Fallon’s memory loss are at the center of the action. Personal memories,  gone. In their stead, Fallon relies on instinct to suss out the person she is supposed to be, as well as tapping into the ship’s personnel records to glean whatever tidbits she can. She knows her height, age, noted abilities, and that she is of Japanese descent. Her skills and working knowledge of the ship, her duties, and protocol, on the other hand, reveal themselves to her as situations arise in which she has need of them. And aside from the black swirl-patterned tattoo on her hip, Fallon has no distinguishing characteristics. She has become one of my favorite characters because of her analytical mind, her constant drive for self-improvement, and her stalwart loyalty to her friends. She is also a total badass.

Some of the novel’s most poignant scenes occur between Fallon and Wren as they relearn their relationship. Fallon plays her cards close to the vest and does not readily accept her domestic situation. Indeed, she and Wren don’t share a bed when she returns to their quarters. It’s painful and confusing and awkward. These moments blend Fallon’s pragmatic disposition with a little-seen tender side. Later on, it’s revealed that the CSO’s marriage is improbable in more ways than one.

Fallon relies heavily on her instincts and her work routine aboard the station to uncover her “true” identity, a notion that becomes increasingly tenuous. Who can she trust, if anyone? Can she even trust herself? Was she a loathsome, duplicitous person? What were pre-accident Fallon’s motives and goals? As she and her carefully vetted band of confidantes probe for answers, more questions crop up as a result. The investigation is akin to finding the key for a room, only to find that the room contains more locked doors, that also have locked doors, that also have locked doors.

DiPietro has crafted a richly imagined universe in which species from across the galaxy meet to conduct business and personal affairs. The space station is part of the Planetary Alliance Cooperative (PAC), a large confederation of species. Raised on dreams of interstellar adventure, cooperation, and discovery, via Star Wars, Star Trek, and countless films, this world feels attainable–if just out of reach–for those of us existing in the early 21st century. Among the wondrous entities on board, you’ll find humans; the humanoid Sarkavians, Bennites, Rescans, and Atalans; and the Briveen, a species evolved from reptiles. For Fallon, knowing how to balance protocol and the well-being of the crew and residents with intergalactic multiculturalism is an essential and enjoyable part of her job. Welcoming a delegation of Briveen aboard the station, for example, requires lengthy social rituals. Other intriguing secondary and tertiary characters include Captain Nevitt (Dragonfire), an ambitious professional who does not disguise her disdain for her second-in-command; Brak, a Briveen who specializes in neural implants and travels with the hospi-ship, Onari; and Cabot Layne (Dragonfire), a Rescan who trades in antiquities and hard to find items. There are other figures who play crucial roles, but that information is classified (at least until you read the book!).

The main challenge for me in writing this review was capturing the spirit of the story while not giving away how the mystery unravels, which is key to the story. DiPietro’s writing style evokes vivid imagery. A few, well-placed brush strokes reveal a complex, exciting world in which everyday activities, such as shopping for artwork and eating out at restaurants, happen alongside cosmic diplomacy and neural implants. DiPietro only shows readers only what pertains to a scene or what Fallon discovers. This tight control of information is crucial to maintaining an atmosphere of paranoia and uncertainty. Weeks after reading the final page, I’m still chewing on it. Thankfully, DiPietro doesn’t leave readers hanging. The second installment, Fragments, followed in October 2016 and book three, Coalescence, came out in February 2017.

 

Until next time, then: “Blood and Bone”!

You can read more of Julie’s reviews on her blog, Omnivore Bibliosaur (jthompsonian.wordpress.com)

Megan G reviews 18 Months by Samantha Boyette

lfriend Lana disappeared. She was found dead several months later. Now, Alissa’s current girlfriend Hannah Desarno has gone missing as well. Not only that, but Alissa keeps receiving mysterious notes; notes that make her think that perhaps Lana and Hannah’s disappearances have something to do with her.

I want to start off by saying that this book is incredibly trigger heavy. First and foremost, there is a dead lesbian in this book, and her death is central to the story. Homophobia is a big theme, and while the homophobia coming from external sources is addressed, the internalized homophobia isn’t. Going off of that, there are mentions of anti-gay camps, and [vague spoiler] Lana’s mother denies Lana’s sexuality after her death [end spoilers]. It’s very clear that Alissa’s mother has some form of eating disorder, and she often fatshames herself and Alissa. There are explicit mentions of sexual assault of a lesbian by a straight man, and a lesbian has several kisses forced on her, most of them by a straight man. A few cases of ableist language. [major spoilers] Someone is drugged several times throughout the book. Also, the only character who is explicitly non-white (at least, as far as I could tell) is not a very good guy. It’s implied that Hannah is black, but he’s the only character who is explicitly stated to be a person of colour [end spoilers].

If you can handle everything mentioned above, then I urge you to give this book a read. My original draw to it was that it was a murder mystery featuring a lesbian protagonist, and both aspects of the story delivered better than I could have imagined. Alissa and Hannah have an incredibly sweet relationship, and it’s clear throughout that Alissa would do anything to get Hannah back. The flashbacks to their relationship are some of the highlights in the book for me. Also, I want to give Boyette kudos for writing the first queer YA novel I’ve read where the protagonist has been in a relationship before. Don’t get me wrong, I love stories about first loves, but I also appreciate the acknowledgment that sometimes your first experiences aren’t with the person you end up with forever, and that’s okay, too.

Now, I don’t want to give away too much about the murder mystery aspect, because I believe it’s something you should read for yourself. All I will say is that I spent the entire book thinking that I knew exactly what was going on, and then when everything came together my jaw dropped. I’m somebody who has read far too many murder mystery novels, so getting my jaw to drop at a reveal is a pretty big accomplishment.  Especially considering that one of the main reasons I read the book as quickly as I did was because I wanted to see if my instincts on the who-done-it were correct (that, and I adored Alissa and Hannah’s relationship and wanted to know as much as possible about them).

Of course, it’s not a perfect book. There are several casual mentions of things that I wish they had gone into further. Alissa has multiple times where she wishes she could just be “normal” ie straight, and while I know there are people who feel this way, it always exhausts me to read about it; especially when nobody ever takes the time to tell her that she is normal. If you’re triggered by any of the things mentioned earlier, I would suggest you give this book a pass; a lot of it is dealt with rather explicitly, while some of the more serious things are sort of brushed under the rug. Still, 18 Months has got one of the most organic f/f love stories I’ve ever read, and one of the best plot twists I’ve read in years.

Maddison reviews Bingo Barge Murder by Jessie Chandler

I have a major soft-spot for cozy mysteries and am always on the lookout for one featuring a lesbian protagonist. So imagine my joy when I discovered The Shay O’Hanlon Capers by Jessie Chandler. Even better than a finding a single cozy mystery with a lesbian protagonist, I had managed to stumble across a whole series.
Bingo Barge Murder is the first in the series and introduces Shay O’Hanlon and her wacky gang. Shay runs and co-owns a coffee shop in Minneapolis with her best friend, and fellow lesbian, Kate. Shay’s quiet existence is thrown into chaos when her best friend Coop shows up at the coffee shop begging for Shay’s help after his boss is murdered and Coop is a suspect. Things only get more complicated when JT, Minneapolis detective and heartthrob, enters the shop on her way to work. Shay is forced to find the real murderer to save Coop all while balancing her growing romance with JT. Shay welcomes the help of Eddy, Shay’s mother figure, and her gang of gambling grannies. The stakes are high, and I ended up plowing through the book in one sitting.
I fell in love with Shay, Eddy, Coop, and JT throughout the story and rooted for Shay and JT’s romance the whole way through. Within the rules of the genre, there is no explicit or gory violence and, in later books, no explicit sex. This is part of why I love cozies: you get the tension and thrill of mysteries without the gore of crime fiction.
However, Bingo Barge Murder was clearly a debut novel, and the inexperience showed in the writing. Pacing was rushed during the novel, and it came in rather short at under 200 pages. There is also a character to whom I have mixed feelings. Rocky has an unnamed intellectual disability at at times through the books is used as a sort of comic relief character–the characters of the book think on him fondly, and his character arc does go through some development, but his character is somewhat of a caricature. I feel like Chandler is trying to be inclusive when writing Rocky, but it can sometimes come across as disrespectful and ableist.
Following Bingo Barge Murder, the issues with pacing and novel length improve. While Chandler might not be the most impressive writer I have ever come across, her novels are well within the standard quality of cozy mysteries.
All in all, I would recommend The Shay O’Hanlon Capers if you are looking for a light mystery with lovable characters and, of course, lesbians.

Susan reviews In The Name of The Father by Gerri Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Holly reviews Last Room at the Cliff's Edge by Mark McNease

last-room-at-the-cliffs-edge-mark-mcnease
In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to make it known that this is the first murder mystery that I have read.  Due to my unfamiliarity with this genre, I admit that I may not be fully skilled in appreciating the nuances.  I think it’s important to note that this book contains descriptions of violence and sexual violence, which may be triggering for some readers.
This story takes place in the eastern United States.  The majority of the action occurs in a small town in which nearly everyone is queer, an accessory to murder, or both.  As the title suggests, the action centres around the Cliff’s Edge Motel, a local eyesore that residents of the town tend to steer clear of, unless they have nefarious actions that need to be carried out in a place of ill repute.  The protagonist is Linda Sikorsky, a retired police detective.  She and her wife, Kirsten McClellan, are driving to a writer’s retreat in Maine so that Kirsten can polish the final draft of her first novel.  When they are waylaid by inclement weather, they find themselves at the Cliff’s Edge Motel.  They decide to stay for the night in hopes of waiting out the storm.  Linda wakes to the sound of a struggle taking place in the next room, and the story goes from there.
This isn’t so much of a murder mystery, or at least not how I imagine a murder mystery should be laid out.  We know immediately who the murderers are and see who is working for whom.  I guess the interesting part of the read is supposed to be watching the retired detective work her magic in discovering useful tidbits of information and piece together the clues.  Major revelations regarding the back story of the characters and the underlying motives of the villain are made towards the end of the book, but by that point we have been presented with so many grisly and disturbing actions that these barely raise an eyebrow.  Sure, they explain the reasons behind the characters’ actions, but they are just drops in a bucket of indecency.
Linda’s partner seems to primarily act as a prop with which the author lays out Linda’s thought process for the reader to see.  Kirsten asks the, “why did you do that?”-type questions, and then we, the reader, learn the motives and methods of the detective through her response.  The relationship between Linda and Kirsten is unusual to me.  There isn’t a lot of affection shown between the characters, and a lot of the time it seems like Linda is merely tolerating her partner’s questions, not really appreciating her presence.  Maybe this is part of the cut and dry, rational, methodical, cold temperament of a former police detective, but to me it seems like there is distance between these two people.  You deserve better, Kirsten.
To me the most interesting character in this story is not the protagonist, but the villain.  McNease succeeded in writing a bad gal that you love to hate.  Meredith is manipulative and evil.  This deranged personality type is fascinating in a morbid, terrible way.  I am so glad to not associate with people like this in real life, and personally, I’m glad that I don’t spend too much time reading about theses types of people, either.
One thing in this book that I thought interrupted the flow was that all of the queer characters instinctively knew that the others were queer, and the author made a point of detailing this.  Everyone’s gaydar is off the charts.  As a person who is guilty of incorrectly assuming that every woman in a cowichan sweater is queer, I am baffled by the laser-like accuracy that these homos have in pinning one another down.
I am not the kind of person who watches crime shows because I have a difficult time watching people be mean to one another.  It seems that this aversion to ingesting suffering for the sake of entertainment also extends to reading descriptions of cruelty and malice.  I’m not saying that this book is poorly written or not well thought out, but I am saying that it’s not my cup of tea.  I like to read books that make me come away feeling happy or hopeful or thoughtful, or that contain beautiful prose, or that give me a different lens through which I can view the world.  Although it didn’t meet this high standard, this book did keep me occupied during a 13 hour drive from Smithers to Vancouver, so for that I’m grateful.

Tierney reviews Consequences by Sarah Libero


[Trigger warning for sexual assault.]

When Emily, a systems analyst, meets Kay, a detective, at their Maine police station, both feel an instant connection: Emily is all too happy to provide her expertise on Kay’s investigation of a drug gang, and she begins questioning her twenty-five-year marriage to her husband, Tom. Then when Tom is killed in a suspicious car accident, Kay takes the case–and her relationship with Emily deepens. As they untangle a complex web of crimes, the two become more and more entangled in each other’s lives. Consequences is a fast-paced romance, with plenty of external cop drama to keep things moving.

Emily and Kay are perfectly likable characters–but their characteristics and character development seems to take a backseat to the novel’s intricate plot twists, and Consequences suffers somewhat for that. For example, the novel opens with Emily getting attacked and sexually assaulted by a stranger, decades prior to the novel’s main events. Ostensibly this prelude serves to explain why she married Tom, instead of pursuing her nascent attraction to women (she states later in the novel that she married him because he helped her feel safe after the attack), but the event’s inclusion and explicitness feel weird and out of place, because it operates as a graphic plot point rather than a traumatic event that Emily works through and that contributes to her character development in some way.

*spoilers in this paragraph* I half expected Emily’s attacker to be somehow involved in the drug-smuggling ring, because everything else in the novel seems to tie back to this investigation, and every other issue in the novel is neatly tied up with a bow when this case is solved. It turns out that Tom was run off the road by one of the drug dealers in the ring, because he had found out about their illegal activities and had incriminating pictures on his phone. And even minor plot points end up leading back to the drug gang: it turns out that the worst player on the station’s poorly-ranked softball team is a crooked cop who was messing with evidence on behalf of the criminals–so with him gone, the team will be on the up and up! It all seemed a little too convenient for each and every obstacle faced by the characters to connect back to the drug investigation. *end spoilers*

Despite all the plot’s dramatic twists, turns, and reveals, I did find myself rooting for Emily and Kay. Their romance had great chemistry–and their first sex scene showcases some pretty great modeling of consent. Read Consequences if you like your romances with a heaping helping of mystery and suspense.