on April 29, 2016
4.5 of 5 stars –
I love gay mysteries and romances, and Richard Stevenson does a good job of combining both in one of the more entertaining such series. I liked this for the same reasons I liked each in the series. In fact, this fourth entry was the best one yet and continued to build the story. With crisp, witty writing, it’s a good mystery, set in the politically-charged early AIDS era, and brought to life by a colorful, hard-boiled yet likable PI, who just happens to be gay.
Stevenson’s style made this a light, entertaining and easy read, with a good plot, pace, tension and just enough details and clues to not slow down the action. I enjoyed the step back in time to the early-‘90s. This was the kind of historical that, at the time, was written as a contemporary piece, capturing moments of what were then current situations and culture. Among the many time capsule tidbits I enjoyed were the clothes, dated technology, and painful and political early AIDS era. And for those interested, it worked well as a standalone, with its own self-contained mystery, while also further developing Strachey, his lover and other secondaries in a way that created a storyline spanning across the series.
What engaged me the most with this story was the character of Don Strachey (who gave his first-person POV), and you’d probably have to like him to like this book. I grew to like him for all his skills, heart and humanness; and it was refreshing that he was not in shame of but was open about being gay. He was hard-boiled, “skeptical,” witty but “sarcastic,” and at times a little off-kilter, including some convenient ethics (e.g., in his own words: using “blackmail, Dirty Harry tactics, and impersonating an FBI agent”). While Strachey was well drawn, the others were not as much. That might be expected with secondaries, but I wished for a little more with some. Thankfully, his lover was fleshed out a little more, as was a new, more accepting police detective (in place of his bigoted local one).
I appreciated that the main focus was on the mystery, with the gay aspect and any romance as a subplot. As Strachey put it in Book 2, ““I’m a PI, yes, and more or less coincidentally gay.” So, instead of being an m/m romance, this was a good mystery with a number of expected as well as unexpected twists, with an ending that was “right under my nose the whole time,” and I loved all the more for it.
In the process, there were a lot of issues going on, but interwoven well. Of the main one, public outing, it was interesting to look back from today’s perspective and see that maybe both sides were right. I liked the many comments evenly divided between pro and con, e.g., “until [people] know that we are everywhere…gay people…can never be accepted or feel safe” vs. “doing unto ourselves as others would do unto us can’t be the answer.” Also, there were the underlying motivations; and for the first time in a Strachey book, AIDS appeared in full force, with its consequent personal pain, dilemmas, injustices, and ironies.
Mixed in with all this was a nice bonus of Strachey’s gay life, and I was pleased to see his relationship continued with his lover, Timmy. It gave Stevenson the chance to further explore the developing relationship for Strachey. It’s an interesting one, reflecting the realities of such things, including working out what kind of a relationship, the struggles, temptations, understanding, and amusing banter between the two. And for those interested, any sex scenes were nicely built but discretely taken offscreen.
This being the best one yet, I continue to enjoy the stories that Stevenson weaves in this series, and I look forward to the next installment.