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Home from the Sea Paperback – June 27, 2013
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About the Author
Mel Keegan's first novel, ICE, WIND AND FIRE, appeared with GMP as long ago as 1990. In the following years many other novels have appeared, including the sci-fi thrillers, DEATH'S HEAD and EQUINOX, which have become cult classics. DEATH'S HEAD was nominated for the mainstream "Science Fiction Hall of Fame," and the historical THE DECEIVERS won a Stonewall award. For almost a decade the Keegan novels were published by GMP (the Gay Men's Press, London), but after their merger with Prowler and later, Millivres, GMP became more or less 'dormant,' selling only old titles, and apparently publishing only those novels which had been in pre-press at the time of the merger. Eventually, Millivres discontinued its paperback division, and Mel turned to a local South Australian studio, DreamCraft, to manage his intellectual properties. A self-confessed science fiction and fantasy devotee, Keegan is known for novels across a wide range of subjects, from the historical to the future action-adventure. Mel lives in South Australia with an eccentric family and a variety of pets, and is closely associated with DreamCraft, where he's been known to work as a part-time, standby editor.
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It is 1769 and Jim is the owner of the sailor's inn, The Raven. If that symbolic bird, a combination of fate and death, doesn't get your hair standing on the back of your neck, don't worry. More concrete things will shortly. Jim was lamed in a childhood accident, so while he knows he at least has a safe warm place in which to make his livelihood, he also is stuck where he will hear one captivating adventure tale after another. One day Toby, a teller of tales and singer of songs comes to his door looking for the former owner. In time Jim learns an involved tale of murder, treasure, love between two men, and of a plot that has been waiting to come to fruition for several years. But, he wonders, is Toby on the level or is he using Jim to his own ends?
One could paint this book as a dark cold room with one wavering light so near the door that opening it would probably put out the candle. That's how Mel Keegan makes you feel about Jim and his life. I got a claustrophobic sensation just reading the novel. Toby reminded me of Niccolo from Dorothy Dunnett`s "House of Niccolo" series, on the surface a simple, uncomplicated man who, as you get to know him, turns out to be the most difficult puzzle you have ever tried to unravel. Like Niccolo, Toby is complex enough that you come to wonder what he's really about. Can you trust him?
It was a different take on the usual gay tall ships romance, taking place entirely on land in the same kind of stormy weather you find in the shipboard romances. The good guys are thoroughly good, and the bad guys will make your skin crawl. Add to this that there are enough seemingly loose ends throughout the story that you, the reader, can never settle down and smirk "I know what is happening." I was wrong so many times I gave up and just read.
I am, and this should come as no surprise to my own readers, a big aficionado of gay historical novels. Mel Keegan is in my pantheon of gay historical novelist gods. This novel fed my hunger for the genre completely.
We first meet Jim Fairley running his late father's tavern. A reputable establishment, The Raven flocks with clientele who share hair raising tales from the high seas that leave Jim musing over the thrill of exotic shores. The fog of his daily grind only lifts when a man of like mind enters the establishment and the pair discovers mutual attraction. But these illegal interludes are dangerous, inevitably brief in nature.
As a result Jim finds himself forever consoled by the companionship of rum-soaked sailors, a dog, one cat, his nearly deaf grandmotherly cook, and a female populace that assumes an old leg injury left him a eunuch. Even an aged regular sees the danger of missed opportunity, warning that any safe haven can become a prison.
Enter Toby Trelane, the enigmatic visitor who gradually, unintentionally, turns Jim Fairley's mundane existence on its ear. Toby acts as handyman by day and balladsinger by night, drawing unlikely crowds even on the cusp of bad weather. This stranger piqued my interest with his secretive yet generous nature. What was Toby hiding? Why did he seem shamed by his past?
I had difficulty putting the book down well before any actual mayhem ensued. You must know, too, that Mr. Keegan incorporated some unexpected characters, well crafted ones. There's the long-dead owner of The Raven who watched the coastal path with eerie intensity. No one could say why. Mother Nature plays a major role, for sure, and even the The Raven herself seems like much more than just a set of structures.
I consider this an outstanding mesh of romance, mystery, drama, and jeopardy. If you appreciate a thoughtful story filled with grit and heart instead of endless sex, be sure to pick up "Home From the Sea".