Hi, everyone, and welcome back to another peek into the vault of novels past, as we dust off a few great Mysteries from the Gay Romance/Fiction genre. As always, we’re giving you the opportunity to enter for the chance to win an e-copy of one of these selected titles by clicking on the Rafflecopter widget below.
But before we get to this week’s recs, I want to announce last week’s “Bad Boys” winner, H.B., who selected Stories Beneath Our Skin by Veronica Sloane.
We’ll be taking next week off due to Thanksgiving weekend, but will be back before Christmas with some of our favorite holiday reads.
I first ran across Geography of Murder and its sequel, A Forest of Corpses, in 2012, and even after the third time reading this series, it still gets me. There’s just something about the way P.A. Brown wrote these stories in the first-person and gave life to her two MCs, Spider and Jason. I have to say, Spider and Jason are explosive, complex, like oil and water. Ms. Brown builds a page turning mystery that’s believable, with intricate investigation details.
From the outset, you would think this is just too easy a crime for Spider to solve. He’s got a dead body and a very live body next to it. He’s sure Jason Aaron Zachary is the killer. But once Jason is taken in for questioning, Spider has the feeling that Jason is innocent, though he’s still sent to jail. When Jason is cleared, Spider is waiting for him. Then, another murder occurs and there are two dead pedophiles, lots of suspects, and Spider and his partner Nancy have their hands full.
Detective Alexander Spider, you will (or almost) hate! He’s cocky, abusive and has a dark side. I know. Being a detective, Spider has seen a lot of horror. But I won’t make excuses for him. He’s in control no matter what, is into BDSM, and to be fair, I will warn you that it turns to abuse.
Jason Zachary is twenty-two, lost and trying to find himself. Family, drugs and his own mistakes have put him in a bad situation. He’s also got a sweet side to him, loves nature, and is so knowledgeable in ornithology. And Jason also has to make a decision to save himself.
Spider and Jason come back in A Forest of Corpses, and we see their personalities and lives have changed. There’s murder, drugs, and danger ahead, and an unlikely hero in this story. I couldn’t find other books in this series from P.A. Brown, but maybe this is the best way to leave Spider and Jason.
All Jason Zachary wants is to keep the loneliness and despair at bay. He escapes to the clubs where drugs and a warm body for the night offer fleeting comfort. But when he wakes one morning, dazed after another blackout, to find himself in bed with a dead body, his life careens him into the arms of Detective Alexander Spider. For Jason, Spider becomes an addiction, a drug that makes him feel alive and safe; his body craves Spider’s control, and Jason falls hard.
But Alex Spider sees the darker side of humanity daily, and he isn’t looking for connections, only to drown himself in encounters with nameless subs willing to let him play his bondage games. His attraction to Jason begins as lust for one more golden boy, but their games of pain and pleasure grow into a tenuous trust, arousing feelings in Spider that are the first light he’s seen in a long time.
But as Spider races to solve a brutal homicide, the daily grind of the job takes its toll, and Spider’s control slips dangerously. A killer closes in, and Spider must confront his own inner darkness, while Jason struggles to save himself by making some hard choices.
OMG! My favorite genre and I had so, so many novels to choose from for this flashback, but hand’s down the mystery I chose was simply outstanding!
Sinner’s Gin is the name of a hot and rising band whose lead vocalist, Miki St. John, is a former street kid haunted by his abusive past at the hands of a diabolical community “good guy,” and his equally slimy cohort, a Chinese restaurant owner. When that same pair end up hacked to pieces and left to be discovered, it is obvious that one of the former “foster boys” had vengeance on the mind and, for some reason, wants Miki dead as well.
Kane is one of the detectives assigned to the case, and he is a genuine good guy who rapidly finds himself falling for the lonely Miki. So much has happened to Miki in a short time–devastating events that have left him emotionally compromised. A few months before, the other three band members of Sinner’s Gin, which included Damien, Miki’s best friend, were killed in a fatal car crash, leaving Miki behind. Now someone wants him dead and Miki has nowhere to turn.
Now the race is on to figure out who is doing the killing. As the story progresses and Kane begins to lose his heart to the fragile Miki, the action picks up and you are suddenly in the midst of a taut, fast-paced mystery. Throw in a visit from Kane’s Irish fireball of a mother, and a visit to the family home, and you have an incredibly well written story with some genuinely hilarious comedic moments thrown in besides!
I really loved this book. I wanted to wrap these guys up and take them home. The sex was both incredibly intimate, intense and erotic and, to be frank, it was so smoothly written that it fit perfectly into the overall plot–just the right amount and carefully written to address the idea that Miki was formerly sexually abused.
Be forewarned this is book one of a series and when you read the absolutely SHOCKING ending to this book, you will want to order up book two, Whiskey and Wry, immediately. What an incredible cliffhanger!!! LOVED IT!
There’s a dead man in Miki St. John’s vintage Pontiac GTO, and he has no idea how it got there.
After Miki survives the tragic accident that killed his best friend and the other members of their band, Sinner’s Gin, all he wants is to hide from the world in the refurbished warehouse he bought before their last tour. But when the man who sexually abused him as a boy is killed and his remains are dumped in Miki’s car, Miki fears Death isn’t done with him yet.
Kane Morgan, the SFPD inspector renting space in the art co-op next door, initially suspects Miki had a hand in the man’s murder, but Kane soon realizes Miki is as much a victim as the man splattered inside the GTO. As the murderer’s body count rises, the attraction between Miki and Kane heats up. Neither man knows if they can make a relationship work, but despite Miki’s emotional damage, Kane is determined to teach him how to love and be loved — provided, of course, Kane can catch the killer before Miki becomes the murderer’s final victim.
I seem to keep picking series for these Flashback Fridays, and this week is no exception. :)
My mystery series of choice is a group of books by one of my favorite authors (also one of my favorite people), Eden Winters. This series is five books—so far—that center around two undercover narcotics agents for the Southern Narcotics Bureau, Richmond “Lucky” Lucklighter and Bo Shellenberger. These two men could not be any more different. Lucky is the former lover of a drug dealer who got caught up in the life and is working off his sentence. Bo is a former Marine and pharmacist who got a little too close to his product. During their first case together, their clashing work styles lead to some pretty intense disagreements, but those disagreements don’t stop what’s quickly becoming a relationship beyond work partners. The stutter and stop of the progress of this pair is fun to watch. Lucky is a smartass redneck who has some issues with his people skills – and he has one of the most distinct voices of any character I’ve read. Bo is just about Lucky’s polar opposite – a health nut, by-the-book kind of guy, who doesn’t always appreciate Lucky’s “corner cutting” and less than SOP style. But they manage to work together in case after case. They also have to keep their relationship under wraps because of department policy and because they don’t want their team to be split up. With each book in the series, the stakes become higher and higher for both Lucky and Bo and for their relationship. As they deal with more dangerous and deadly enemies, the constant threat takes a toll on them as well. The well-drawn and believable progression of these men as a couple is enough to recommend this series.
But beyond the amazing characterizations of these two protagonists, these books are really smart. I learn something new and fascinating in each new book – whether it’s the illegal drug dispensing and theft of pharmaceuticals, the so-called “grey markets” for scarce drugs, new designer street drugs or cross-border drug running, I’m always amazed at the content of these stories. Ms. Winters does a LOT of research for these books, and it shows.
The fifth book in this series has been published this year and as the series has expanded, we also have gotten to know a number of impressive secondary characters. Walter, Lucky and Bo’s boss at SNB, is still a bit of an enigma, and particularly in books four and five of the series, the reader is never quite sure who to believe and who may/may not be the bad guys. Agent Loretta Johnson is also a breath of fresh air – in so many ways. I would really like to know more about her and maybe we’ll get that in the next book. :) One of the best things about this series is that while there may be the resolution of a particular case or plotline in each book, there are definitely underlying mysteries that continue to thread through the series that keep me coming back for more. I am anxiously awaiting more of Lucky and Bo!
There are good guys, bad guys, and then there’s Lucky.
Former drug trafficker Richmond “Lucky” Lucklighter flaunts his past like a badge of honor. He speaks his mind, doesn’t play nice, and flirts with disaster while working off his sentence with the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau. If he can keep out of trouble a while longer he’ll be a free man–after he trains his replacement.
Textbook-quoting, by the book Bo Schollenberger is everything Lucky isn’t. Lucky slurps coffee, Bo lives caffeine free. Lucky worships bacon, Bo eats tofu. Lucky trusts no one, Bo calls suspects by first name. Yet when the chips are down on their shared case of breaking up a drug diversion ring, they may have more in common than they believe.
Two men. Close quarters. Friction results in heat. But Lucky scoffs at partnerships, no matter how thrilling the roller-coaster. Bo has two months to break down Lucky’s defenses… and seconds are ticking by.
Once again I’m going to throw out a few titles this week just to make things fun and interesting, and once again, I hope to have thrown in enough variety to highlight the uniqueness of the mystery genre.
My first title is an Urban Fantasy mystery I read back in 2010, Andrea Speed’s Infected: Prey.
Roan McKichan is a virus child, which is Speed’s way of delineated Roan from the rest of this series’ infected. In other words, Roan, rather than being bitten, was born with the gene that makes him part human/part shifter, and the Roan we see at the beginning of this series is not only an anomaly but also becomes an evolutionary enigma that no one can explain by the time the author wraps things up. In fact, to put a finer point on it, Roan shouldn’t even be alive… But Roan’s entire being is sort of one big Fuck Off to norms and convention, so why shouldn’t he be just that contrary? Especially when he’s king of the urban jungle.
I’ll be perfectly honest right here and tell you that Prey isn’t the best book in this series, and I’ve spoken to a few people who gave up on its sequels after reading it, but in the history of all fiction, if there’s a series I’d beg anyone to stick with, Infected is right up there at the top of the list. Speed has such a fantastic sense of humor and a knack for creating characters you want to hang out and have a beer with that it’s impossible not to become emotionally invested in them, and even though this series is NOT a romance, Roan and Paris’s relationship is a love story for all time. I can say with at least 99.99% accuracy that I’ve never cried at a book the way I did at Infected: Bloodlines (okay, maybe when Dobby died, but that’s it! And Snapey, but that’s my final offer). But that’s the beauty of this series–though Roan’s an ex-cop turned PI, and there are mysteries to be solved, so much of these books are also about Roan as a person and a lion and a freak of nature. And we can’t forget about the people who love him and just want him to live–they’re awesome.
When I finally got to Infected: Epitaph, the final book in the series, I almost felt this sense of wonder and awe that Roan and Dylan and Holden and the Hockey Boys don’t truly exist somewhere in this world, because for those eight books they were so alive in my imagination and had earned a spot in my wee li’l heart. And there’s not much better than that. If I ever meet Andrea Speed in person, I want to frigging high-five her for staying true to her canon, too, for not pulling any punches or God-In-The-Machine miracles to appease us readers. There may not be any happily-ever-afters promised, but sometimes a happy-for-now is the best we can hope for. Especially when you’re a walking time bomb.
In a world where a werecat virus has changed society, Roan McKichan, a born infected and ex-cop, works as a private detective trying to solve crimes involving other infecteds.
The murder of a former cop draws Roan into an odd case where an unidentifiable species of cat appears to be showing an unusual level of intelligence. He juggles that with trying to find a missing teenage boy, who, unbeknownst to his parents, was “cat” obsessed. And when someone is brutally murdering infecteds, Eli Winters, leader of the Church of the Divine Transformation, hires Roan to find the killer before he closes in on Eli.
Working the crimes will lead Roan through a maze of hate, personal grudges, and mortal danger. With help from his tiger-strain infected partner, Paris Lehane, he does his best to survive in a world that hates and fears their kind… and occasionally worships them.
My next recommendation started something–I don’t know what to name it, really–but before I even made it out of chapter one, I’d emailed this author. To be more precise, when a white, coiffed helmet of artfully arranged hair, along with rosy cheeks and a pert bow mouth, were all revealed to be sitting atop a pleasantly round and huggable body…clad in a leather bra and panties, and toting a shotgun, I was hooked.
Who the hell but Cole McGinnis could find himself being chased by a lesbian leather granny with a mad desire to swiss cheese his ass? Nobody. Who could ever dream of writing it? Rhys Ford.
Cole hasn’t had what anyone would call a perfect life. Rejected by his father and stepmother, abandoned by his birth mother, navigating a fragile relationship with his brother Mike, and victim of a horrific crime that not only stole a lover but a best friend, when Cole meets the beautiful and elusive Kim Jae-Min…God but does he ever need some one to love, and for that someone to love him back.
So alongside the murder mystery, which looks like a suicide but, of course, isn’t, we also watch the beginning of what evolves into a difficult and crazy-making and frustrating and gorgeously real love story of a man who’s Japanese/Irish ancestry are vague labels of his lineage. And the other? His Korean heritage means duty and honoring its traditions and is, at times, unfathomable to our Western sensibilities that there are actually people in this world who put cultural expectations before their own happiness. But, that’s the beauty of watching Jae unwind, and watching Cole give everything of himself to a man who has a difficult time allowing himself the joy of loving Cole back.
Dirty Kiss is a true mystery, i.e., I hadn’t the foggiest clue who the killer was until the moment that person was revealed, but along the way, I got to meet Scarlet, Claudia, Bobby, Cole, and Jae, and they are, to this day, some of my all-time favorite people. Along with the book’s author.
Cole Kenjiro McGinnis, ex-cop and PI, is trying to get over the shooting death of his lover when a supposedly routine investigation lands in his lap. Investigating the apparent suicide of a prominent Korean businessman’s son proves to be anything but ordinary, especially when it introduces Cole to the dead man’s handsome cousin, Kim Jae-Min.
Jae-Min’s cousin had a dirty little secret, the kind that Cole has been familiar with all his life and that Jae-Min is still hiding from his family. The investigation leads Cole from tasteful mansions to seedy lover s trysts to Dirty Kiss, the place where the rich and discreet go to indulge in desires their traditional-minded families would rather know nothing about.
It also leads Cole McGinnis into Jae-Min’s arms, and that could be a problem. The death of Jae-Min’s cousin is looking less and less like a suicide, and Jae-Min is looking more and more like a target. Cole has already lost one lover to violence he’s not about to lose Jae-Min too.
All right, readers, you want the wayback flashback? How about a book first published back in 1970? This next recommendation is some seriously perfect noir fiction, and if you’ve ever had anyone try to explain to you the difference between gay romance and gay fiction, this book is that difference.
Joseph Hansen’s Dave Brandstetter Mystery series is a seminal work in the genre. Yes, Dave is gay, but his sexuality is not the focus of these books. In fact, Dave is a Private Investigator who happens to be gay, not a gay man who happens to be a Private Investigator, and there-in lies the difference. The series isn’t about Dave’s sexuality and all the obstacles he faces being gay in the 70s, but it’s about the fact Dave is damn good at what he does, and when he smells a fraud, he’ll scrape and gnaw at every single clue until he uncovers the truth. That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t a certain romanticism to the book Fadeout, for both Dave and for the man whose death Dave is investigating.
Because the blurb for this book is seriously lacking, let me give a quick and dirty recap. Fadeout is this: The year is 1967. Dave Brandstetter is a death claims investigator for Medallion Insurance, the company owned by his father (who’s pretty damn accepting of his gay son, considering the time period). He’s looking into what appears on the surface to be the accidental death of Fox Olsen, a popular public figure in the small town of Pima. Fox was many things: a husband, a father, an entertainer, a performer, an aspiring author, a mayoral candidate, and a man with a secret. Fox had just reached the point in his life where he was worth more alive than dead, after years of living hand to mouth. But then he died in an accident that left behind a car but no body, and an insurance policy with a hefty payout. It’s Dave’s job to find Olsen’s body because no sign of foul play means his company will have to pay the claim on the one-hundred-fifty thousand dollar policy that, let’s face it, could inspire murderous tendencies in a desperate enough person. Greed and desperation have caused people to do murder for a lot less. No corpse, however, now means it’s Dave’s job to sniff out all the facts behind the incident to prevent a fraudulent payout.
If you’re not familiar with the noir style, this book is a perfect representation of that. The short, choppy sentences and dark atmosphere, along with what is, at times, a stream of consciousness delivery, doesn’t have the customary flow and cadence of other sub-genres. If you love long, lush sentences that go on for paragraphs, noir isn’t representative of that writing style. This book is also not written in the first person, which, for whatever reasons, I was anticipating, but not a bit of intimacy is lost in the third person telling, as Hansen not only wove a suspenseful narrative but endeared his forlorn hero to readers at the same time.
I loved his book, for Dave as much as the mystery, so much so that I bought book two before I’d even come close to finishing Fadeout. This is exactly the book you’re looking for if you want a tightly plotted whodunit with a slightly downbeat but nonetheless endearing protagonist.
Dave Brandstetter stands alongside Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and Lew Archer as one of the best fictional PIs in the business. Like them, he was tough, determined, and ruthless when the case demanded it. Unlike them, he was gay.
Joseph Hansen’s groundbreaking novels follow Brandstetter as he investigates cases in which motives are murky, passions run high, and nothing is ever as simple as it looks. Set in 1970s and 80s California, the series is a fascinating portrait of a time and a place, with mysteries to match Chandler and Macdonald.
In Fadeout, Dave is sent to investigate the death of radio personality Fox Olsen. His car is found crashed in a dry river bed. But there is no body – and as Dave looks deeper into his life, it seems as though he had good reasons to disappear.