* Prices may differ from that shown
Adrien English runs a crime and mystery bookshop in Los Angeles. It's not making him a fortune but he gets by. His life is ticking along, much like his arrhythmic heart, until his old school friend comes back into his life. When Robert Hersey is found lying dead in a back alley clutching a chess piece in his hand, suddenly Adrien finds himself the prime suspect. True Adrien and Robert were heard having a loud disagreement in a restaurant but that doesn't make him the murderer and the LAPD's finest don't seem remotely interested when Adrien's bookshop is ransacked, thinking he's trying to divert suspicion away from himself. They are equally disinterested in what appears to be an attempt on Adrien's life and when another friend of his is also brutally murdered, he's still the number one suspect. With such a hostile attitude from the police, it's beginning to look as though he's going to have to do some serious investigating of his own if he wants to avoid the possibility of wearing an orange jumpsuit.
I came across this book purely by accident in a charity shop which was selling off books at three for £1. I'd found two and grabbed this one after a casual glance at the synopsis on the back cover. What I failed to read was the by line which stated: "A classic gay mystery available in print again." Had I read that line, I probably wouldn't have chosen the book, thinking I wasn't the demographic that the author had in mind, but in that case I would have missed a rather good story.
I liked Adrien English from the beginning. He is smart and intelligent and with a nice line in witty self-deprecation. He isn't exactly poverty stricken but most of his money is tied up in a trust fund which doesn't release any money until he hits 40 and he's only 32. As well as selling mystery books, he's also been writing one of his own which has just been accepted for publication. The bookshop is doing well enough for him to offer employment to his high school friend, Robert, whose marriage has just ended when he came out but unlike Adrien, who is going through a dry spell after his long-term relationship ended, Robert is making up for lost time. When Adrien finds some money has gone missing, he questions Robert but this ends in a rather loud and public argument and with Robert storming out of the restaurant to meet someone. Several hours later, he's found stabbed to death.
LAPD Detectives Chan and Riordan are investigating but are obviously hostile, especially Detective Jake Riordan, and Adrien has them both pegged as homophobic. When Claude, one of Adrien's friends says he's sure he's seen Riordan before in a local leather bar, Adrien thinks it's obviously a case of mistaken identity, but can't help a bit of wishful thinking.
As the body count increases Adrien begins his investigation despite police disapproval. His approach is pretty much like in one of his mystery novels and the clues and red herring fly thick and fast with lots of possible leads which turn into dead ends, leaving the reader every bit as clueless as Adrien. The pacing is good throughout and the fledgling friendship between Adrien and Detective Jake Riordan is interesting.
All the characters are very realistic in that they act and speak like real people. The author's writing style is easy and erudite and above all, it's restrained. There is no purple prose or hyperbole to be found in this novel.
Having a gay leading protagonist adds an extra dimension to this novel. The story is told in the first person and through Adrien we're able to see just how much casual homophobia there is in the world and how hurtful unwitting comments by people can be. Having read this book, I shall certainly be more careful in future about what I say in the hearing of gay friends and acquaintances.
The different approaches to the investigation taken by Adrien and Detective Jake Riordan reflect their differing attitudes towards their sexuality. Adrien is completely at ease with being gay and is out to his friends and family, well his mother anyway. Jake, on the other hand, is so far back in the closet, I fear he may never find his way out. He hates that he's attracted to men and is fighting against it as hard as he can and I'm afraid poor Adrien may be caught in the crossfire.
Because there is some sexual content of the homosexual kind in this book and the odd four-letter word, the powers that be, deem this to be unsuitable for under-18s. At the risk of being shot down in flames, I'd say the gay sex in this book is innocuous in comparison to some of the heterosexual content to be found in so called mainstream books and they never come with a warning. Some sex scenes, in romance novels for instance, are sometimes verging on the pornographic. Let's face it, children can pick up and leaf through a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey and its ilk in practically every supermarket in the land and that's full of gratuitous sex and it's badly written to boot. I wouldn't regard any of the sex in this book as either gratuitous or particularly pornographic, neither is it described in gory detail and, quite frankly, it's far better written than many mainstream novels, too. If it didn't offend this middle-aged old biddy, surely it can't be that bad. Rant over.
Don't think that this is simply a 'gay' mystery novel; this is a really enjoyable read with a well plotted mystery at its heart and the beginnings of an interesting romantic entanglement and it has universal appeal, except possibly if you're a homophobe. This is the first in a series of five mystery novels featuring Adrien and Jake and I'm already working my way through the other four stories.
I'm giving this novel 4 stars though I'd really have liked to give it 4½. I'd never heard of Josh Lanyon before picking up this book but I shall certainly be seeking out more of his work after I'm through with Mr Adrien English.
The paperback isn't cheap at £7.08 but the Kindle edition is more reasonably priced at £3.79.