Dos Equis—Anthony Bidulka (Insomniac Press) Lake on the Mountain—Jeffrey Rounds (Dundurn)

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Dos Equis – Anthony Bidulka (Insomniac Press)

Shortly after gay marriage was legalized in Canada, I was
invited to a friend’s wedding in the capitol, Ottawa. The men had been together
for 35 years and wanted to take the opportunity to legalize a long accepted
relationship. Four hundred and twenty guests were invited. The wedding party
all wore silver and lavender and consisted of ten including a flower girl and
ring bearer boy. The grooms were given away by their sisters. The Chief Justice
of the Canadian Supreme Court married them. Earlier in the day, we were all at
the main Episcopal Church of Ottawa’s Capitol Hill where the couple received a
“blessing.” It was the society wedding of the season.

I bring this up because we all tend to think of Canada as a
slightly slower, dimmer, sister. As those glam nuptials showed, it is anything
but, and these two mystery novels continue to exhibit Canadian panache along
with its solidity. Although they are astonishingly different in their aims and
ultimate effects, they are among the best LGBT mysteries I’ve read this past
year. Add them to some other recent books by woman authors like Emma Donoghue (Room, Astray) and Ivan Coyote (One in Every Crowd) and some of its
newer poets like S. McDonald  and David
Bateman, and  it is increasingly evident
that Canada and Canadians have moved into the mainstream of LGBT American
Literature.

Anthony Bidulka has been writing for some time and this is
the eighth and most recent in his series of Russell Quant mysteries, one of
which has already received a Lambda Book Award – Dos Equis is a finalist this year also. Set in Canada’s Midwest,
rather than in what I used to think of as its more sophisticated coasts, Dos
Equis is an unusual mystery in that it absorbs the caper genre and it has a one
of a kind, and quite chilling villain. It is also charming, delightful, and at
times quite funny. If that weren’t enough, it moves from Saskatchewan to
Zihuatenjo, Mexico, that winter haven of Canadians, where its clever finale is
acted out.

Quant’s closest business rival has – bizarrely –called on
him for help, but before he can get to her, she is murdered. His short, odd
list of suspects and potential suspects end up vanishing and/or suiciding.  Big problema. But Quant’s got sources and
resources and he soon discovers the unusual motive for the crime i.e. to cover
up the trail of a hit woman, a serial murderer of little old ladies who are
living a bit too long for their greedy relatives. How to capture this cold
blooded wench becomes the central action of the second part of Dos Equis, and that’s where the book
becomes inventive and fun. Quant has friends in all kinds of places, and we’ve
met most of them before in previous volumes of the series, so no surprise that
Quant  manages to herd them together just
long enough to entrap the senior-killer. His bait will be his unsuspecting
Ukrainian immigrant mother, who is moved around like a figure on a chessboard
— until she surprises everyone by exhibiting hidden talents, one of which
becomes quite profitable.

Bidulka’s cast of characters are a mixed lot: Jared Lowe,
Seerena Orion Smith, Errall Strane, Anthony Gatt are from earlier novels.  They are unique enough and handled with such
adeptness that you cheer for them at the same time you are egging them on.
There is also romance for Quant in the form of a possibly quite bad bad-boy,
named Jean-Paul Taine, who also comes into play.  After a few needed thrills and chills the
confection concludes splashily and amusingly.

 

Jeffrey Round – Lake On the Mountain (Dundurn)

Jeffrey Round’s Lake On the Mountain, by contrast, is a novel of psychological probing and
depth, and also of some sad social/political realities too. It contains two
mysteries and a fine character study of its gay detective, Dan Sharp, a father
to a teen son, and a man with a variety of problems, both family related,
inherited, and of his own making.  In
addition the writing is never less than stellar and at times really fine. The
dark yet brilliant way he evokes Sharp‘s early childhood home, a mining town in
far northern Ontario, and its effects on the townspeople over the decades is
almost Lawrentian in its unrelieved drudging daily horror.

The detective’s own roots are tainted by neglect,
alcoholism, and metal instability. Therefore his reactions will be over the top
when they aren’t complete bottom feeding. His son, Ked, the result of a
mistaken leap into heterosexuality, is however one of his strengths, as is his
African-American “big-sister” pal, Donny. But Round pulls away those crutches
convincingly at key times and our hero is thrown on his own.

There are two overt mysteries, one concerning a gay-green
card marriage into a wealthy and powerful family that takes place on the
titular body of water in Prince Edward County where a sibling of one of the
to-be-weds goes missing. But there is an older disappearance in that same
family a generation earlier that becomes a key to both the current day one and
also to Dan’s unsatisfactory relationship with glamour-boy, Steve, who has invited
him to the nuptials. And while that investigation is going on – usually not
well; or in the right directions — Sharp is also tracking down a missing teen
wanted by hateful parents who believes hustling the streets is preferable to
that particular nuclear family. Another surprising romance for Sharp pops up
during the investigation — and we’re off.

It’s all less complex than it sounds and wonderfully
readable, and a satisfying read too. I recommend it.

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©, 2013, Felice Picano

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