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by Dorien Grey
Paperback, $14.99, 237p
In his second psychic case, Elliott Smith is confronted with Aaron, a ghost that cannot move on from the house that Elliott is renovating until he finds out what happened to his missing lover. That’s the way Elliott’s spectral sidekick, John, explains the situation. It turns out the lover’s body was discovered, an apparent suicide, just a few weeks after Aaron’s own death four years ago. As Elliott begins probing, with the help of his brother-in-law, a Chicago police officer, he suspects foul play. What would be the motive? Jealousy? Greed? During the leisurely course of the investigation, Elliott’s lover, the painter Steve Gutierrez, also begins to show psychic abilities, but Elliott cannot bring himself to tell Steve about John, making for a most unusual menage à trois. At heart this novel is a good, old-fashioned murder mystery in which all the clues are scrupulously laid out for the reader.
In trying to solve who killed university archivist Walter Angel in the airport parking lot, Saskatoon private investigator Russell Quant must follow a “treasure map” the dead man surreptitiously stuffed into his carry-on as they were deplaning. The ingenious set of riddles takes Russell across a set of real city landmarks (thus implicitly inviting the reader to aid Russell by checking out the sites on the Web). Close on Russell’s trail is an unknown driving a white Ford pickup truck with murderous intent. But the mystery is only part of the novel. One of the things I admire about Anthony Bidulka is his willingness to take risks. In this sixth in the series, he continues to give equal attention to the mystery and to the personal growth of his detective, here specifically to Russell’s fear that, by being in love with two very different men, he is actually “a man who could not love.” The author also engages in some metafictional play by introducing Neil Plakcy’s Honolulu detective (see below) into the opening and closing scenes. Will this book function as a key turning point in Russell’s life? Whereas all the previous stories have begun in Saskatoon, moved somewhere exotic, and then returned home, Plakcy has pointed out that this one reverses the pattern by beginning and ending abroad.
This first novel introduces Seattle P.I. Evan Austin, head of Austin Investigations. He is hired by British lawyer David Hope to find R.J. Gibson, heir to a small fortune, before his 18th birthday. Though the boy was abandoned by his mother, Hope says the family wants to make amends. The trail leads Evan to the houseboat where artist Roman Cavanaugh lives and the discovery that the latter has become the teenager’s de facto guardian after a car wreck left the father in a coma. A battle shaping up over custody, one in which Roman will not have any legal grounds, Evan declines to turn the information he has uncovered over to Hope, a decision that has unforeseen and life-endangering consequences. Meanwhile, Evan’s desire to help underdogs gets him involved with a volatile drug-dealer who likes to slap his girlfriend around and leads him to try to calm down a former client who is now convinced, probably with reason, that he stands to be framed for a murder. The novel is as much romance as mystery: Evan, much to his dismay, finds himself falling in love with Roman. Their affair develops through unexpected turns and barbed quips, survives an unshared enthusiasm (on Evan’s part) for the local baseball team, and ends, amazing enough given the present state of the romance marketplace, without the reader having any idea of the size of either hero’s penis.
The PsyCop series endears because of its main character. Victor Bayne’s boyish simplicity has charmed me from his debut. A psychic who cannot avoid seeing ghosts unless he takes a powerful suppressant, the Chicago cop here works alternately on two quite different cases: one professional and the other personal. His department wants to know why one wing of a hospital has such an abnormally high percentage of deaths. Vic wants to know why the facility at which he trained, known derisively as Camp Hell, along with his fellow students has simply vanished off the Internet. In this fifth story we also discover that his lover, police officer Jacob Marks, a psychic groupie, has powers of his own.
When Rosie the ghost, a harbinger of death, appears at the Key West compound where special agent Bradford Fairfax and his lover, the blue-haired Zachary Tyler, are staying, fellow guest James Vanderbilt is convinced his estranged family is going to kill him. After all, five drag artists with whom Jim was associated have already died from poisoned lipsticks. With their high political aspirations, Jim’s father and his brother have no reason to risk the antics of a cross-dressing, operatic countertenor during the brother’s campaign. Post-Rosie, more murders do occur. Does Jim’s family play a part in them? Who is this mysterious Baby that Jim keeps referring to? And what roles do other strange personalities at the resort have in the swirl of events? Before this whirlwind of a tale is finished, our heroes have confronted not only ghosts and dead bodies, but piranhas, poisonous snakes, crocodiles, murderous drug-dealers and other thugs, an ambiguous Russian count, a transgendered champion boxer, and a number of sexually attractive live bodies for a series of hair-raising adventures, all the while unloading a barrage of campy quips. Zach increasingly proves his worth in this second of a series set in gay hot spots.
Surely few readers can finish reading this third in the campy Turkish Delight series without modifying their vision of the Mideast. The gigolo in question is one Volkan Sandogan, who is found dead with seven stab wounds in a forest outside Istanbul. Financier Faruk Hanoglu is arrested but soon let go after the intervention of his brother-in-law, lawyer Haluk Pekerdem. Our unnamed amateur sleuth, the cross-dressing proprietor of a drag nightclub, has the hots (to the point of being annoying) for Haluk, but he might not have become involved in the case had his computer company (his other line of work) not been hired to wipe out a segment of a company’s records. Turning to a computer rival — the S/M wheelchair-bound, super-religious genius, Kemal Barutçu — our narrator discovers that the latter is also involved in the scheme and that together the two of them have just wiped out a sizable chunk of the files of the state-run communications system, specifically those records dealing with Faruk’s calls and transactions. War is declared, and wearing any number of fetching outfits, our hero (who is also a champion Thai boxer) goes into action to apprehend the murderer who has put him into such an untenable position. All is revealed in a finale right out of an Agatha Christie.
Paperback, $14.95, 279p
Sometime between the previous novel in the series, Mahu Fire, and the present one our hero, Honolulu police detective Kimo Kanapa’aka, ended his relationship with fire investigator Mike Ricardi. The final straw was not Mike’s inability to come out of the closet; rather it was his passing an STD along to Kimo upon returning from a conference in San Francisco. But now the two meet again professionally after an arson case in a strip mall Kimo’s father used to own results in a death. Kimo’s investigation uncovers a whole list of illegal activities conducted by a shadowy crime lord, including prostitution and the importation of illegal immigrants. After his split from Mike, Kimo himself has engaged in some pretty risky sex, verging on the illegal. Will that make him more likely to forgive Mike when he discovers the sparks between the two are far from extinguished? And will Kimo be able to bring the bad guys to justice without a video showing his naked butt in action being used against him and ending his police career?
MURDER IN THE GARDEN DISTRICT
Paperback, $14.95, 256p
The heart of the novel is a powerful story about a family of Faulknerian proportions. (Throughout, I kept thinking about Absalom, Absalom!) The son, Wendell Sheehan, an aspiring politician, is murdered in the hall of his home on St. Charles Avenue, and his mother and his wife each claims the other killed him. The mother hires Chanse MacLeod “to find reasonable doubt for the jury.” Ordinarily Chanse would never take such a case, but he realizes that the matriarch holds something over the head of Barbara Castlemaine, his regular employer. More mysterious deaths, past and present, emerge as the case uncoils with all the stateliness of a Greek tragedy. In this, the fifth in a series, regulars reappear, including Chanse’s friend Paige and two police detectives, the magnificent Venus Casanova and gay Blaine Tujague. Chanse has just come from seeing his mother, from whom he has been estranged for over a decade. He is still trying to come to terms with his personal failures at establishing a meaningful relationship with another man, but there are no gay elements to the case itself. Two melodramatic subplots include a killer with a personal vendetta against Chanse and the approach of a hurricane. Both distract from the very powerful, dark core of the novel.
MURDER ON CARMAC
Joseph R.G. DeMarco
Lethe Press / $18.00
Paperback, $18.00, 393p
Philadelphia-based researcher Helmut Brandt claims to have found documents that prove Pope John Paul I was murdered. But before he can do anything with them, the philandering Brandt himself is gunned down on Carmac Street. Is the Opus Dei, the local Cardinal, or some jealous lover behind the murder? Timothy Hollister, Brandt’s long-time lover, hires private investigator Marco Fontana to find the truth. Since Marco is also the owner of StripGuyz, a business offering male strippers and go-go boys for hire, he has lots of resources to turn to among Philly’s gay community. The investigation takes the lapsed Catholic not only into the darker corners of gay life there, but also up against the byzantine complexities of the Catholic Church. Though aware of a mutual attraction between him and his business manager, Anton, Marco is drawn irresistibly to the handsome priest Monsignor Kusek, the Cardinal’s personal adjutant. This engaging first novel is fairly complex, with a large cast of characters. I longed for the old days when paperback mysteries came with a “Cast of Characters.”
The third novel in the series disappointed me. There is too much biography and too little mystery for my taste; the interplay between fact and fiction, which made the first two novels such pleasant romps, here seems strained. On his way back from his American tour Oscar becomes involved with a Paris-based acting troupe, the La Grange company. Relatively late in the novel, a series of mysterious deaths occur; Oscar realizes that they form a bizarre pattern based on the Greek elements and identifies the perpetrator to his friend, Conan Doyle. Once again Oscar’s straight friend Robert Sherard is narrator. Set in the period before Bosie, the storyline is totally heterosexual, though the author has concocted some ingenious foreshadowing of Wilde’s end.
Professor Fathom’s lusty team of five adventurers reappear (after their initial appearance in The Cross of Sins) in a race against the clock. The devilish Pierre Perron offers to provide the antidote to a slow-acting poison administered to one of the five’s protege if they locate the lost pyramid of Pharaoh Imhotep’s gay son, Ahnu, in the Egyptian desert. Leaving the blind Professor Fathom in Perron’s hands, four are off to Egypt, with dangers threatening them at every step, while the biologist of the team tries to find a source for the antidote in equally dangerous Brazil. The fast-paced thriller harks back deliberately to the high days of gay pulp fiction with plenty of sex and loads of action.
Their tenth outing takes Albany P.I. Don Strachey and his mate Timmy Callahan to Bangkok to find Gary Griswold, who has disappeared there. Don has been engaged by Gary’s ex-wife and present sister-in-law to find the missing heir to an Albany steel company fortune. Don soon realizes that something other than ordinary family concern may be behind the case. The $38 million inheritance that has also disappeared with Gary could help the Griswolds in a power struggle for control of the company. Don’s first step is to engage local P.I. Rufus Pugh (né Panchalee Siripasaraporn) to help him through a labyrinth of Thai politics, religious charlatanry, and fluid sexuality. The partly U.S.-educated Rufus is one of the most delightful characters to come along in a mystery in quite a while. With him, ever-liberal Don finally meets his match in sarcasm and wisecracks. The quite comical novel veers from outright farce to tense confrontations, sometimes on the same page. It is also surprisingly the most Albany of the series since 1995’s Shock to the System. (Note to director Ron Oliver: Chad Allen, Sebastian Spence, and Nelson Wong, who surely will accompany them, will have a grand time with this script.)