Megan G reviews Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Sue Trinder has been brought up to be a fingersmith – a petty thief. She lives with a baby “farmer” named Mrs. Sucksby, who has raised her as her own. One day, a man known to Sue as Gentleman arrives at Mrs. Sucksby’s house to enlist Sue’s help in a plot to gain the fortune of a lady. Sue is to be the maid of the lady, Maud Lilly, and convince her to marry Gentleman, after which they will abandon her to a madhouse. With the promise of a share of the lady’s fortune, Sue embarks on a journey away from the home she’s always known, unknowingly entering into a game far more dangerous than she could have expected.

Over the past few years, I’ve sometimes felt like I am the only queer woman in the world who has not read Fingersmith (or any Sarah Waters’ novels, for that matter). Well, maybe not the only one, but one of a handful. After years residing on my dauntingly large “to-read” list, I finally managed to pick it up, and oh, was it worth the wait!

Mystery is possibly my favourite genre, and Fingersmith delivered more than I could have hoped. I knew it would be a twisty tale, but I did not realize going into it just how many twists and turns the story would take. Every time I felt I’d just regained my footing after a plot twist, Waters threw another at me. Some were a little predictable, others caught me completely off-guard. Because of how many mystery novel’s I’ve read in my life, let me tell you, that is a pretty hard thing to do.

The love story is subtle, but poignant. There are very few explicit mentions of the women’s feelings toward each other until the end of the novel, and even then, it is dealt with in a way true to its time. Still, you can’t miss the obvious love these two women feel for each other, and despite all the deception and backstabbing they involve each other in, you can’t help but root for them. [Major spoiler] I also have to mention how wonderful it was to see a story like this end on a hopeful note for its lesbian protagonists. It would have been very easy for Waters to write their feelings off as a fluke, or to have them move on from one another, but instead she gives the reader, and the women, hope. It was refreshing, and allowed the story to end on a hopeful note, something I didn’t think would be possible [end spoilers].

If you have not read Fingersmith yet, I highly encourage you to do so. Although not technically considered one, I would easily classify Fingersmith as a classic. That being said, it is not without it’s warnings. There is a lot of explicit ableism and abuse (one extended scene of abuse taking place in an asylum had me cringing the entire time I read it). There are hints of rape, and very strong implications of a pedophilic relationship, as well as of pedophilic feelings from several men. [Major spoiler] A young woman is made to read sexually explicit stories aloud to men from a young age. As well, a character heavily implied to be gay dies in a very violent way [end spoilers].

If these are all things you can look past, I strongly encourage you to pick up Fingersmith if you can. Trust me, if you’re like me and haven’t read it before, you will be so happy that you did.


Megan Casey reviews Butch Fatale: Dyke Dick by Christa Faust

Butch is the quintessential hand-to-mouth PI in LA. Her first client in a while is a butch lesbian like herself who hires her to find out why her girlfriend has left her and gone back into the prostitution trade. Murders ensue and characters are introduced, described, questioned, and usually fucked until Butch finds herself pointed in the right direction to solve the case.

Faust, who seems to have done it all, is a professional writer who rarely makes mistakes. She has a curiously masculine style of writing. Either that or she is successful in masculinizing Butch’s first-person point of view without in any way making her seem like a man. The mystery is a good one, going from one clue to another logically and building up suspense along the way.

Despite these good things, I can’t shake the idea that Faust wrote the novel primarily because she came up with the name Butch Fatale. The fact that—unlike most of her other books—Butch Fatale is available as an e-book only (despite the fact that releasing it as a paperback would cost her virtually nothing) makes me think that Faust is tossing the book off as something insignificant. Or as a kind of joke. More disturbing still is the possibility that she intended it as a parody of a hard-boiled detective novel using a butch lesbian as the detective to give it more humor.

This is unfortunate because Butch is a winning and likeable character. In fact, she’s someone I wouldn’t mind hanging out with as long as bullets weren’t flying around our heads the whole time. The novel could have been a top-notch lesbian mystery and probably one of the best of these featuring a PI. Trouble is, we never really know whether the book is meant to be in any way serious. Maybe I’m not the best person so judge this because I have notoriously little sense of humor but this book goes from a nail biter to a Keystone Cops routine at the drop of a hat. In the climactic last scene, Faust goes completely over the top, creating a chase scene that would probably have a TV audience chuckling, but leaving this serious reader scratching her head.

Another problem is that Faust seems obsessed with showing Butch having sex with virtually everyone she meets except her secretary (see Mannix, James Bond, Cormoran Strike, etc.), who is really the only one who loves her. This randiness would almost pass muster, at least for the first half of the book, but when she continues to undress woman after woman—even under threat of death, even after she takes a bullet—it gets old and occupies too much of the narrative. Is this overuse of sex a spoof of something? Maybe, but there are very few lesbian mystery characters who act in a similar manner.

I suspect—and this is of course my opinion only—Faust decided to make Butch Fatale a humorous , almost ridiculous Phillip Marlowe instead of a PI that would stand tall in the pantheon of lesbian literature. Either that, or she changed her mind about what the book was supposed to be a couple of times as she was writing it. There is a great danger that some readers will consider Butch to be the butt of a novel-long joke, which is disrespectful to both the character and to lesbian mysteries in general. Humor is fine, but not ridicule. Too bad. Give it a 3 for the professional writing and hope that a second novel in the series gives Butch the respect she deserves and maybe a little more backstory. I will be waiting, and at a reasonable price, I will be a willing reader.

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 Addict by Matt Doyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For over 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website athttp://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Megan Casey reviews Edited Out by Lisa Haddock

Edited Out by Lisa Haddock cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more than 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Megan Casey reviews The Slayer by Nadine LaPierre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For over 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/ or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Susan reviews Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones

Heather Rose Jones’ Daughter of Mystery is a fantasy of manners, set in the fictional European country of Alpennia during the early nineteenth century. The focus is on Margerit, who wishes to be a scholar and inherits a Baron’s fortune… And his bodyguard, much to their mutual dismay. Barbara, the bodyguard and a feared duelist, was promised both freedom from the Baron’s service and the truth of her parentage, which she is denied in favour of being bound to Margerit’s service until they are eighteen. Together, the navigate intrigues, Regency-era society, and the titular mysteries.

This book managed to consistently confound my expectations. Every time I thought I knew what I was getting, I turned out to be wrong. I was expecting a Regency romance with minimal physicality and maximum philosophy from the reviews I’d already read, but I somehow managed to miss that this was a fantasy series as well! The focus is also not as much on Margerit achieving her goals as a scholar and her introduction to society as it is on the philosophy and mechanics of what she’s studying, which threw me at first. Daughter of Mystery does not throw aside Margerit’s goal of going to university, which I appreciate, it just didn’t spend more time on it than was required to establish that she found Her People through it, and that they would be working together.

The subject of this work is one of the mysteries of the title: in Alpennia, appealing to the Saints in a specific manner can produce magical effects, known as Mysteries. The way Mysteries are written and discussed has a very academic, technical tone to it, especially as a fair amount of the discussion is how to reconstruct them from conflicting sources, which I quite enjoyed! (If you have ever studied history or philosophy, this tone is probably going to sound familiar to you.) If you decide that this is not for you, however, there is a lot of it and it is quite slow. I have to admit that missed that this was the philosophy that everyone mentioned in reviews the first time around, as I mentally filed it as “the magic system” and made no further demands of it, so it is possible to let it wash over you if that’s what you prefer!

But these are not the only mysteries in the book. There is the mystery of what Baron Savese (Margerit’s benefactor and Barbara’s former… Patron? Owner?) was scheming before his death, as those schemes have repercussions that ripple out and affect both protagonists long after his death; there is the mystery of Barbara and who her family was; and there is attempting to work out which factions are working against Barbara, Margerit, or both. The resolutions to the web of secrets around Barbara was particularly nicely handled, I thought? Daughter of Mystery dug into the the reactions of the reveal, which was particularly satisfying to see because usually those emotions are left unresolved, especially when it is too late for there to be repercussions for the secret-keeper. And it leads to an explicit conflict in how the protagonists view a character, which was excellent to read.

But I’ve not gone into the characters or the romance yet! I adored most of the female characters in this book; Margerit’s guardian has an arc about getting into a relationship as an older woman, and Antuniet is a prickly fellow-scholar who is the protagonist of the second book. (The male characters mainly serve as obstacles and threats, with maybe a few exceptions.) Margerit is passionate about her learning in a way that I enjoyed, and she just discovering that it’s possible to be in love with a woman, which is written in a very sweet way that I enjoyed – if you, like me, enjoy a lot of unspoken desperate longing, hyper-awareness of the other person’s presence, and two people desperately trying to protect each other without letting the other one know, do I have a recommendation for you! But Barbara is my favourite, as a fierce and protective woman trying to steer Margerit safely when Margerit has no concern for the hazards of what she does. The book is also very clear in using Barbara’s in-between position (not quite a servant, not quite a noble, but the one who understands both worlds) as a contrast with Margerit’s status (country nobility and new money, with no understanding of the position she’s been thrown into) to explore class and classism, which I enjoyed. My biggest problem with their relationship is that towards the end, the “unspoken” part of their longing crosses the line into melodrama, in a way that distorts their characterisation somewhat and could have been resolved with literally a five minute conversation.

My biggest problem with this book, honestly, was not the ending though. It was that the pacing is a bit odd. It’s a Regency novel with a philosophical bent, so I was expecting it to be a little slow, but there is a point towards the end where literally all the main characters do is sit around and wait for four months. This was partially to give depth to the romance and aid in the resolution of Barbara’s parentage, but it stuck out to me because that four month timespan has so much activity happening against Margerit and Barbara, but we see none of it. I suppose that’s a problem that shows up earlier in the story; it’s told from a very restricted point of view, the villains move in very different circles to our protagonists, and the schemes tend to have many moving parts behind the scenes, so we only see the results, if that? But it was very puzzling to read.

All of that said: I found this very compelling! I was so invested in the relationship between Barbara and Margerit, and I did manage to hand-sell this book to three people after I read it. If you like fantasy, Regency romances, and/or reading about characters piecing together history, I definitely recommend it.

Caution warning: there is an attempted sexual assault early in the book.

(The copy I read was a review copy from The Lesbrary)

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.

Maddison reviews The Case of the Not-So-Nice Nurse: A Nancy Clue and Cherry Aimless Mystery by Mabel Maney

Who hasn’t fantasized about Nancy Drew being at least a little bit gayer? If you are anything like me and the subtext between Nancy and George isn’t quite enough for you, then Cherry Aimless and the Not-So-Nice Nurse has got you covered.

Cherry has been working as a nurse and is finally going on her two week vacation. Cherry is eager for her trip to San Francisco where she plans to visit her spinster aunt. She has almost escaped the hospital when the intimidating head nurse stops her to ask a favour. Cherry, eager to please, accepts the request to deliver the package as it is on her way. But, when Cherry arrives in San Francisco she finds her aunt kidnapped, and to add to the disheartening news, her idol Nancy Clue has gone missing. It’s up to Cherry and her rag-tag crew of queer women to solve the case and save Cherry’s aunt. And how is the head nurse and her package tangled in this whole mess?

Cherry has a sweet, naive innocence which drives her interactions with other characters. Over the course of her adventure she slowly meets a friendly crew of queer women. She never questions their sexualities, or even her own, but accepts love as love. While Mabel Maney never uses the word lesbian in the work, the relationships between the characters are explicit.

Cherry Aimless and the Not-So-Nice Nurse is a fun parody of Nancy Drew that pokes fun at the original without being mean spirited. It is a light romp which holds a special place in my heart. Told from Cherry’s perspective, she wears rose tinted glasses that create a lighthearted version of the 1950s. The book brushes with issues like racism and homophobia, but Cherry doesn’t pay these issues much heed.

Would I recommend the book? Definitely! It is an easy read, it is funny, and who wouldn’t want a reality where every woman you meet is queer?

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.