Monthly Archives: October 2013

Boystown 5: Murder Book – Marshall Thornton (CreateSpace)

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Despite having read and enjoyed Thornton’s Perils of Praline, I didn’t pick up on this series until the fourth volume, but I was mightily impressed. I enjoyed the grittiness and local Chicago flavor, which was never overdone, the meticulous depiction of the early Eighties, and Private Detective Nick Nowak himself–a well-rounded character as faithful to his own principles as he is flawed in his actions. Thankfully, none of those reasons for liking the Boystown series has disappeared in the fifth installment, Murder Book

What has disappeared is Nowak’s lover, Harker, who is found dead. As the fourth book indicated, Harker was diagnosed with AIDS (it’s the early Eighties, remember, so it’s not HIV) so his death was not unexpected. In a marvelous opening twist, however, we find Harker has become the latest victim of the notorious Bughouse Slasher referenced in earlier books. Nowak figures Harker had finally gotten too close to the truth and, through his grief, he launches his own investigation to rid Chicago of the serial killer once and for all.

Nowak’s grief provides some of the most poignant moments in the book as he tries everything to work through it including work itself, grief sex, and a visit to the hypnotist downstairs from his office. Thornton’s depiction of this is dead-on as he allows Nowak’s desperation and loneliness subside just long enough to be more powerful when it returns. Speaking of returning, Harker’s old-school Czech mother also returns for a brief yet pivotal appearance, as does Christian, the reporter wanna-be Harker was close to.

Thornton’s prose is wonderfully spare, making it as quick and certain as the storyline. There’s not much window dressing here, and that’s not what I read this kind of book for anyway. That said, even though the book is plot-driven, we’re given enough access to Nowak’s head so that we can empathize with him and understand why he sometimes does the things he does, and Thornton is excellent at delineating those positive and, at times, self-destructive thoughts.

Thornton’s excellent writing, credible plot, and well-drawn and involving characters add up to an engaging and interesting entry for this series. So many avenues are closed at this juncture, however, that one wonders what Nowak will do next. Whatever it is, I’ll certainly check it out. And so should you.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler


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Light – ‘Nathan Burgoine (Bold Strokes Books)

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Wheeler’s Law of Reasonable Expectations dictates that if an author is well-known for his bittersweet romantic stories, his novels will follow along the same lines. ‘Nathan Burgoine’s Light, however, obliterates that law. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, there is little, if anything, bad about this stunning debut, which makes my job as a reviewer both easier and more difficult at the same time.

Kieran Quinn is a gay massage therapist, but that’s where the stereotype ends. He also has telekinetic powers, which is good for our side. Bad for our side is that the enemy, embodied by Stigmatic Jack (leader of the Church of the Testifying Prophet) also has a telekinetic it can use for its nefarious purposes. During one eventful Pride week, Kieran and Jack square off for some monumental battles. Who wins? And what of Kieran’s lust for a hot leatherman named Sebastien? How about Kieran’s brother’s lust for Karen, his boss at the spa? And who is the Miracle Woman?

Burgoine answers these questions and more in a stylistic tour de force that is as much superhero story as it is a light romance (which, at its core, Light is–complete with HEA). What’s stunning about this debut is its assurance. In terms of character, plot, voice, and narrative skill, Burgoine knocks it out of the park as if this was his tenth book instead of his first. He, along with Tom Cardamone, has the considerable gift of being able to ground the extraordinary in the ordinary so that it becomes just an extension of everyday life.  Kieran Quinn is, indeed, a superhero (despite the fact that he hates the names the public gives him–Rainbow Man, Light, Disco?), but he’s a superhero who loves his cat, who blithers in the presence of handsome men, and who goes on failed blind dates.

Knowing Burgoine’s short fiction as well as I do, I was floored to discover his facility with action sequences. There are four encounters with the villain, each increasing in complexity and scope to the climactic final one, and all four were totally engaging and had me on the edge of my figurative seat. I was more confident in predicting the romance, which is written in a clever, light ‘n’ breezy manner with an undercurrent of danger. Burgoine’s dialogue , especially between Kieran and Sebastien, shines. It’s banter-ish without sounding forced–the kind of dialogue I always imagined happened in Jean Kerr’s house. Or maybe even Erma Bombeck’s. And Kieran’s voice is totally entertaining–that of a genuinely nice guy with just enough smart ass to give his observations some punch.

Burgoine’s prose is clean and focused, his characters are sharply defined, and his plot runs a fairly straight line–with one neat little twist–to its conclusion, which is immensely satisfying. What more could you ask from a debut? This is the difficult part of my job, where I’m supposed to come up with a negative or two to counter all the strokes. And I really can’t think of anything worth mentioning. Perhaps four or five books in, when he starts taking chances that don’t work , there’ll be something to point at…wait, maybe I found one: He could have written it so that it was easier to put down.

As far as negatives, that’ll have to do.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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