Megan Casey reviews Fearful Symmetry by Tasha Fairbanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan Casey reviews Megan Casey reviews Command of Silence, by Paulette Callen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan Casey reviews Red Rover by Liz Bugg

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

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

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

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

For more than 200 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Megan Casey reviews Chicken Run by Alma Fritchley

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

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

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

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

For more than 200 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/  or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Megan Casey reviews Ten Little Lesbians by Kate McLachlan

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There is a lot that can be said about this book, not just about whether it is good or bad, but also about the style of its composition, its history, and its characters. This is true of all good books, of course, but not all books are good.

It is no secret that Ten Little Lesbians is based on Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, which was originally published under a name that had more negative racial overtones. I don’t want to go into that here, but Google the book if you don’t already know the story. In Christie’s novel, a number of people are invited to an island resort in order to kill them. Each has a guilty secret

In the more modern, Ten Little Lesbians, the guests are all women who are planning a “Women’s Weekend” at a bed and breakfast many miles from the nearest town. And yes, they all have guilty secrets. The two main characters are Beatrice Stone and her niece Tish. Bea has arranged the trip for two reasons—to get Tish away from her ex before she is arrested (again), and to accompany her friend Carmen, who is trying to get over a bad breakup. The other guests—as well as the inn’s owner and her single employee—of course have their own stories. One  character is blind, one is an ex-con, one is a Mormon, and so forth.

But except for a tidbit here and there, that’s about as close to Ten Little Indians as McLachlan gets. This is not bad because Agatha Christie is not a very good writer. Ooh, have I touched a taboo subject? Too bad, because although Christie could write an extraordinary plot line, very few of her characters are realistic or interesting. I exclude Miss Marple from this because I kind of like her, but Hercule Poirot was a windy buffoon; even Christie herself disliked him. And the vast majority of her incidental characters are utterly and immediately forgettable. Her prose is generally plodding and dull.

Ten Little Lesbians is a much more enjoyable book than its near namesake. Not only is the writing more lively, but the characters are all more interesting and individual. One of the reasons for this is McLachlan’s use of point of view. The book is made up of seven longish chapters, but each chapter is further divided into sections. And each section has its own point of view character. Chapter 1, for instance has at least one section from each character’s perspective so that we get not only different voices, but deeper backstories as well.

When one character disappears and another is found dead, the fun begins. In fact, the book reminded me as much of the 1986 mystery/horror movie April Fool’s Day as it did the Agatha Christie novel. And the story really is fun, despite the suspense. Tish is a sexy, engaging character and her aunt is a businesslike no-nonsense authority figure who harbors a tragic secret. “Aunt Bea” is pragmatic and philosophic and generally is the one who moves the book along. But it is the divergent lives and voices of the other characters that keep us anxious to follow her.

My one quibble is that I found myself wishing I knew earlier who was gong to end up as the main character. Tish dominates the first two chapters, then her aunt takes over almost completely for the next two. This is not necessarily a fault; after all, a number of series, such as Penny Mickelbury’s Mimi and Gianna Mysteries, are told from two points of view. I just came away with a suspicion that all is not as balanced as it might be. Give this one a 5 on the enjoyability scale and certainly no lower than a 4 in your final rating.

For other 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 Wombat Strategy by Claire McNab

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Kylie Kendall, newly arrived in L.A. from a small-town in Australia, is a fresh catch compared to cold-fish, Sydney-based Carol Ashton, the protagonist of McNab’s first lesbian mystery series. To expend the metaphor, The Wombat Strategy is a pretty good catch.

Kylie has grown up in Australia, working in her mother’s pub in Wollegudgerie. But when her American father dies and leaves her his 51 percent of a private investigation business in Los Angeles, California, Kylie jumps at the chance to jump ship and head for the states. Of course, having been dumped by her girlfriend for a hairdresser might have helped, too.

When the junior partner of the business politely tries to buy her out, Kylie refuses and decides that she wants to be a PI too. The fact that this junior partner, Ariana Creeling,, is a bombshell, might have helped in Kylie’s decision, too. But Ariana agrees to sponsor her and Kylie’s nationality comes in handy almost at once when a famous Australian self-help guru hires Kendall and Creeling to solve a mystery involving the disappearance of highly confidential patient records—records that might be used to blackmail certain famous clients.

The mystery is believable enough, especially with the strange Hollywood types who seem to flock to the quack doctor for therapy. Kylie proves herself to be not only smart, but able to take care of herself in dangerous situations—criminal or sexual.

Unlike the relatively lifeless Carol Ashton, Kylie brings health to these pages with her enthusiasm and her Australian euphemisms, which McNab lays on maybe a little too thick. Kylie is a quick study and catches onto the PI business in short order. Ariana is mysteriously aloof and professional, and the rest of the staff are interesting in their own ways. Fran, the office manager, is pretty, dour, and a relative of Ariana’s. Melody, the receptionist, is less at her desk than away at casting calls. There are also a few other members of the staff with their own areas of expertise.

Although I hadn’t noticed this in McNab’s Ashton series, the names she gives certain things are often excellent. The self-help guru has a system he calls “Slap slap Get on with it.” And the movie titles of a couple of filmmakers make me want to go out and watch them; I mean, if they really existed. A TV reality show has incognito angels competing with humans for viewer votes.

I like the title, too, which is a spoof on Robert Ludlum titles. Kylie is kind of like a wombat, small but determined and feisty.  I think that what sets this book—and this series—out from most lesbian mysteries is its lightheartedness and its ultimate disposability. In other words it’s a perfect novel to pick up when you can’t decide what to read.

Bottom line? Kylie is refreshing not only compared to Carol Ashton, but compared to most other lesbian sleuths as well. A good beach read that you may want to keep instead of throwing away. And here’s another thing: if you have a stack of books that is so large as to seem imposing, then the next Kylie Kendall mystery may be the one that works its way into your hand. Call this one a 3.7–closer to a 4 than to a 3. Fair dinkum.

For other 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 1222 by Anne Holt

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The first interesting thing I want to mention is that Anne Holt’s series is listed as The Hanne Wilhelmsen Novels. Not The Hanne Wilhelmsen Mysteries or The Hanne Wilhelmsen Adventures. The publisher—a traditional mainstream press—wants us to view these books as literary. In other words, something above the more lightly taken mystery genre, and certainly above the lesbian mystery subgenre. This is a bit troubling.

Holt is a good writer, though; way better than the average, and 1222 is an exciting and suspenseful novel that fits squarely into the class of Scandinavian writers like Jo Nesbo, Stieg Larsson, and Hennng Mankell. I generally read the first book in a series first, but for some reason, 1222 was the only one that was affordable. This may have helped this review, because I suspect that the protagonist, Hanne Wilhelmsen, has changed greatly since her inception over twenty years previous. This Hanne has left her active years as a police detective behind and is now a wheelchair user due to a crippling injury she received on the job. This Hanne is someone who wants to be left alone with her disability and not have people staring at her or offering sympathy.

She is on a train trip to see a specialist in a northern city in Norway when her train derails during a fierce storm and all the passengers are forced to wait for help in a nearby hotel. Then the storm turns into an actual hurricane, threatening thee hotel itself. Then someone is killed. Although Hanne has no desire to participate in finding the killer, she seems to be the only one who can.

The mystery is actually set up as a veritable whodunit—with the reader getting clues at the same time Hanne gets them. And I suspect tat when she gets the final clue, the reader will guess the murderer at the same time Hanne does. This spoils nothing. The setting—a hundred-year-old resort hotel, the varied and well-drawn characters, and the dangerous story, would be worth reading about even if there were no mystery at all. The truth is, I felt like I had been put through a ringer—a very cold one—before I had even finished half of this entertaining novel.

Although Hanne identifies as a lesbian—and there is a wannabe lesbian teenage suspect—there is no sex in this book, nor is there any attempt to feature a gay lifestyle in any of the characters or even in Hanne’s inner thoughts. I suspect I will have to read some of the initial offerings in this series to learn more about this side of Hanne’s life.

Quibbles aside, I would give this book high marks (if I gave marks at all) and I am anxious to go through the rest of the books in this awesome series, several of which have yet to be translated into English. Holt is a superior writer and deserves to be on anyone’s Top-25 list of Lesbian Mystery writers. It is to be hoped that her publisher will in the future be aware that this genre is an important one and not try to fool potential readers into thinking that it is something else.

For other 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 Whacked by Josie Gordon

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Lonnie Squires has an unusual profession for a lesbian mystery protagonist; she is an Episcopal priest. As far as I know, Joan Albarella’s Nikki Barnes is the only other woman of the cloth in lesbian mystery fiction. In fact, it is unusual to find religious references at all in the genre other than casual references to “the goddess” is some of the earlier, more feminist novels. As we know, most churches have not treated the LGBT community with respect, but if you have a calling, you have a calling and the Episcopal Church has been more queer-friendly than most.

Even so, author Gordon makes is clear early that Lonnie’s “calling” had more to do with the fact that the church had a women’s soccer team than any burning bush experience. In her relatively short career as a priest, Lonnie has become known for her ability to effect reconciliation; to smooth out differences between members of the church. When her bishop promises to give her her own rectory if she will travel to Eastern Michigan to mediate between two splitting factions, she jumps at the chance. Little does she know that she will become embroiled in a murder.

Although I’m not someone who likes a lot of praying in my novels, I confess to being a fan of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories. I also confess to finding Whacked enjoyable and strangely satisfying. But that satisfaction didn’t come easy. I found the setup to the mystery to be clumsy and less than plausible. For one thing, Lonnie lies to the police to protect someone she has met only half an hour before. Then she breaks into the murdered man’s house (before the police think of it, mind you) and finds a clue that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Having said that, it is absolutely essential that she do these things—there is no plot without them. But if I gave real star ratings for these books, Gordon would lose a healthy part of one for forcing the plot in this way. She knows she’s doing it; when Lonnie finds the clue, she thinks to herself, why is this here? Yet its presence is never actually explained. Likewise, a sheriff’s deputy, after a casual look at the body, tells Lonnie that he was killed with a shovel and that the shovel had been taken away. But if it had been taken away, how did he know it was a shovel, especially since it turned out to be an unusual kind of shovel? This is actually a major flaw in a mystery novel because most astute readers would assume that the deputy must be the killer. And this shovel is very important to the rest of the book.

Still, I like Lonnie and disliked her partner Jamie, as I was meant to—just about everything Jamie does in the book is disrespectful to Lonnie. I liked the description of the small Eastern Michigan town, especially its Dutch traditions and odd-sounding cuisine. I liked the insider look at the old Episcopal Church, and I very much admired the way that Gordon managed to use soccer metaphors throughout the book. Such as when Lonnie is questioning one of the suspects and thinks she may be about to learn something important: “This felt like a breakaway on an open net, though I knew the defenders were right behind me and gaining.” Her use of this extended metaphor is among the best I have ever seen—and that is saying something.

Lonnie’s philosophy of reconciliation not only goes to the heart of the novel, but to the heart of our society, divided now more than ever before: “Love had great power. People could do great goodness with the love they felt, once they got past anger and fear.” I’m willing to give Whacked the benefit of it being Gordon’s first attempt and I’m looking forward to seeing whether in Toasted, the next novel in the series, my feeling is justified.

For other 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 Wanted by T.I. Alvarado

 

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Bird Blacker—who has one of the oddest names in lesbian mystery fiction—is an ex-police officer now working as a bounty hunter, probably the first bounty hunter in the genre. Comparisons beg to be made between Bird and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, and there are a few. Both women are tenacious and funny, both have male partners, and both have family that are active in the plot. But Bird is a closeted lesbian and lives on the other side of the country from Stephanie. The better comparison might be between Bird and Domino Harvey, a real-life bounty hunter. Domino , who died in 2005—the year before this book was published—was about the same age as Bird and lived in Los Angeles.

Wanted is a quick read and an enjoyable one. In fact, 95 percent of it is hilarious. It is a true comic novel, even more humorous than the novels of Mabel Maney or Deborah Powell. Bird was flushed from her nest as a police officer when she had an affair with her male partner’s wife, and had to take a job as a “fugitive recovery agent.” Her new boss, Vicky Da Vinci, not only owns the bail bonding agency, but is a painter as well. Bird’s arch-rival is a gigantic, bald, and heavily muscled bounty hunter named Mochabean, a man so unpleasant that he pretends to have friends by forcing his handcuffed skips to have a drink with him in his favorite bar before he turns them over to the police. To boot, Bird’s partner in hunting is a pacifist who refuses to put bullets in his gun.

But the real star of the book is Bird’s younger sister Ruby. A 20-year-old college dropout, Ruby makes Bird’s life a living hell from the minute she shows up for a visit. The sisters agree on absolutely nothing, and Bird’s dangerous job leaves her no time to babysit. Ruby, on the other hand, wants to help Bird catch fugitives. But when the mob gets involved and Ruby is kidnapped by Bird’s ex-girlfriend (whose similarity to Lacey Montgomery, in Tonya Muir’s Breaking Away is duly noted), Bird has to risk everything to save her.

But that’s really only the surface of things. Most of the story is a madcap romp through LA—the kind of a book that Butch Fatale tried to be but failed. Ignore any of the bad reviews you see for this first novel—I suspect that the readers just didn’t get it—it’s written well enough for me to suspect that Alvarado is the pseudonym for a more experienced author. The basic plot has Bird finding a man who has skipped bail and turning him in. Trouble is, the man is the son of the local mob boss, who does everything he can to recover his son and to make Bird—and her sister—pay for their interference.

But remember when I said in the second paragraph that the book was 95 percent hilarious? Well, the other 5 percent consists of tough, fist-in-your-teeth violence. Although I don’t like violence in literature, I’m sure there’s a place for it. My objection here is that it is so out of tone with the rest of the writing that it almost could have been lifted from another novel altogether: Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream, maybe, or Palahniuk’s Fight Club. And most of this violence comes in the first couple of chapters. An incredibly off-putting beginning to what becomes a very enjoyable novel. It probably cost the author the better part of a star. Still, I’ll give it somewhere around a 3.8 and sigh at what the novel could have been.

For other 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 Death Wore a Diadem by Iona McGregor

 

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Christabel MacKenzie is a 17-year-old student attending the Scottish Institute for the Education of the Daughters of Gentlefolk in Edinburgh. Like most of the students there, Christabel’s  family is well to do. In fact, her aunt is a friend of the Empress Eugenie of France. It is when the Empress decides to visit Edinburgh—and the Institute—that bad things start to happen. First, a replica of the Empress’ jeweled diadem goes missing, then a servant girl is pushed down a flight of stairs after a tryst with her paramour.

Christabel, concerned about both the theft and the murder, begins to ask questions. She is helped by Eleanor Stewart, her botany tutor at the Institute. But they are more than just student and tutor. Christabel has a terrific crush on Eleanor—only a year her senior—that is fully reciprocated. So when Christabel deliberately makes bad scores on her science tests, Eleanor is given permission to give her private lessons at Christabel’s home.  This comes in handy because it gives the two young women not only time alone together, but the freedom to investigate both inside and outside the school.

This is a rather delicious book that deserves way more attention and more reviews than it has garnered thus far. Its publication date—1989—shows it to be far ahead of its tune. The relationship between Christabel and Eleanor is very believable and touching. Although their intimacies are limited to quick kisses and phrases like “They put their arms around each other and one thing led to another,” we do believe in their love for each other and are rooting for them all the way.

In the process of the novel, the author goes into some detail about the Institute, which was one of the first to provide more than a cursory, parlor education for girls. We learn that not only was this unusual, but it was mostly frowned upon. Senior instructors had to have college degrees, which most women didn’t have at the time so that only men taught the higher levers of study. And Eleanor’s passion to become a full-fledged doctor is treated with derision by the male doctors she comes in contact with. The intricacies of the Institute are well set up, as are the plot and the resolution of the mystery. I especially liked the author’s rendering of Scottish dialect.

This is the first Young Adult lesbian mystery I have come across. In fact, it may be the only YA lesbian mystery, although I would very much like to read others.

Give it a thumb’s up with every hand you have. In an interview, the author states that she began a sequel, but never finished it. Pity.

For other 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