Monthly Archives: April 2018

Badge of Loyalty – Jude Tresswell (Rowanvale Books, Ltd)

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The protagonist of Jude Tresswell’s Badge of Loyalty is Mike Angells, a Gay CID (Criminal Investigation Department) inspector, (in America a plainclothes detective), based in northeast England. Mike’s life is rather ordinary (if you can call police work that): investigating Part I crimes; dealing with homophobic and/or just plain clueless straights in his department; and all the extra challenges of loving three different men simultaneously instead of just one. Although openly gay, he is not as open about the three men involved in his life: Ross Whitburn-Howe, gallery owner; Phil Roberts, doctor; and Raith Balan, artist. As indicated by the title, Mike’s byword is loyalty, and he is as loyal to his co-workers as he is to each of his lovers (including his first one, now deceased). And the red heart with a blue lemniscate tattooed on all four men’s arms is as important to Mike as his police badge.

Most of the time Mike can keep his life neatly compartmentalized, but all of that changes while investigating the suspicious death of a footballer in a gay club: the father of the primary suspect threatens blackmail, by exposing a years-old crime committed by Ross, unless Mike withholds incriminating evidence against his son. Mike’s vows of loyalty are suddenly in conflict, and his decision ultimately leads to a lot of soul-searching and a serious life change, but also to a brutal conclusion when two men (an ex-con and Raith’s former lover Peri), each bearing different grudges against Mike, team up to exact revenge.

Most of the narrative centers on Mike, and is delivered by an omniscient narrator, in the third person voice; but interspersed throughout are first-person asides by Ross, Phil, and Raith. These asides are just as interesting (perhaps more so) as the main action, for they flesh out the main story by explaining such things as each man’s individual back story, and the genesis of their relationships with Mike; for this reason, Raith, the last man to join their quad, has the fewest asides (although his are the longest). They also discuss each character’s perception of the nature of their relationships with Mike and each other; Ross, for example, considers himself monogamous since he has sex only with Mike, and never with the other two. Ross’s comment underscores a most interesting observation: everything is not perfectly equal between all four men, all the time; their relationship is a constantly shifting polygon, not a perfect square—or perhaps tetrahedron would be a more apt metaphor for an outsider’s expectation. In any event, this novel provides an example of polyamory and how it does and doesn’t work—at least for the four men involved (in this, as in most things, your mileage may vary).

Too erotic to be a pure police procedural, and too brutal for most erotica, this novel, like its protagonist, defies easy categorization; but readers who enjoy fast-paced stories will also enjoy this multi-faceted story, and the four men at the heart of it.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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Death’s Echoes – Penny Mickelbury (Bywater Books)

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Being the chronologically-obsessed, anally-retentive kinda guy I am, I hate exploring a new series from the middle. I’d rather work from the beginning out, but sometimes that isn’t possible and I have to start with the volume at hand. So, I’m new to Penny Mickelbury’s Gianna Maglione/Mimi Patterson mystery series, but if this entry is representative, it’s definitely worth exploring.

Five Muslim women are gunned down as they are heading to worship at a Washington D.C. mosque, one of them being a D.C. cop. This horrible incident brings in Gianna Maglione, head of the Hate Crimes Unit and a friend to the slain cop. Along for the bumpy ride is Maglione’s partner, Mimi Patterson, lead investigative reporter for one of D.C.’s top newspapers. Together, they face not only the aftermath of their friend’s death but a sex-trafficking case as well as the possibility of dirty cops infiltrating and terrorizing an apartment complex full of vulnerable women.

This is a lot of plot, but Mickelbury starts the book off with some strong action as we see the Muslim women murdered by a bunch of Trump supporters (more on that later) and a lot of shock and grief from the dead cop’s friends and allies. The apprehension of the murderers left me wondering where things were going, but as soon as she solves that case, Mickelbury smoothly lays the groundwork for the two unrelated cases that form the meat of the book. Considering Maglione and her Hate Crimes Unit are working on two cases simultaneously, and Patterson has her own set of problems, you’d think there are a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up in the space of less than 250 pages. You’d be right. But Mickelbury manages to do so, plus nearly getting Maglione killed right after the cases are (mostly) solved. That, in particular, was a nice touch. Just when you think the action is over–BAM. We have yet another hospital vigil to sit.

Although the plot flowed well and everything unfolded nicely, I felt confused by some of the choices both Maglione and Patterson made, but I suspect that’s the fault of my coming into the middle of the series. Yes, this book can stand alone plot-wise, but as the author, you can only set up so much before you have to expect the reader to bring in something from the previous books. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that information. However, I was able to glean most of it from context.

Death’s Echoes, then, is a rip-snorter of a procedural that hits the ground running and doesn’t let up. It’s a finely-wrought package sure to please current fans of the series and bring new ones into the fold.

JW

© 2018 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Pennsylvania Station – Patrick E. Horrigan (Lethe Press)

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I like nothing better than when an author puts a different spin or finds a new wrinkle in an old story. It always puts a smile on my face when I close the book and think about how the character or the plot has unfolded and how involved I’ve become in the ending. In his new novel, Pennsylvania Station, an homage of sorts to Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, Patrick E. Horrigan does just that.

Staid, middle-aged architect Frederick Bailey isn’t really crazy about New York City’s Pennsylvania Station, at least architecturally, but it represents an urban continuity of the mid-1960s Manhattan he’d rather maintain for a number of reasons. When he goes to the theatre to see My Fair Lady, he meets Curt, a cute blonde boy with few inhibitions and fewer options. Frederick is unwillingly drawn to Curt but helpless to disregard his feelings for the flighty young upstart. Curt gives Frederick a badly-needed sense of play, and Frederick gives Curt stability–or at least as much stability as the boy will tolerate. Their relationship sputters along but lasts. Until Venice, of course.

As with most, if not all, modern re-tellings of Mann’s classic story, Curt/Tadzio is fleshed out and we get some relief from Frederick/Aschenbach’s point of view. Horrigan takes us inside Curt’s head so that we have a better understanding of his motivations and what drives him both to and away from Frederick. Thus, the focus is different from the original. It becomes less a study in worship and more an examination of a relationship. Whether this is to the work’s detriment or not, I’ll leave up to the reader. I suppose it depends on how attached you are to the original. While I enjoy the portrayal of obsession inherent in Mann’s story, I have to say I prefer the two points of view of the modern versions. And Horrigan’s novel is no exception to this.

Curt interests me because even though he is (as the book’s blurb says) mercurial, he has an innate sense of justice and fairness about being queer. He’s an activist who seeks out the Mattachine Society as he rejects their suit-wearing normalization. He sees nothing wrong with himself and has a positivity about his sexuality that most boys his age simply did not have then. Nor did most men Frederick’s age. This schism is the biggest difference between them, one that can’t be bridged by either sex or love. Or both. No matter how freely Frederick loves/is obsessed with Curt, he feels it’s fundamentally wrong and is, beneath it all, ashamed of it.

Not that this causes Frederick much grief. He’s happy hating himself. He’s come to that decision long ago and simply no longer has to think about it. No matter how much Curt tries to argue or persuade him otherwise, he won’t be moved. Is it any wonder this relationship is headed for disaster from the very beginning?

Horrigan throws these two polar opposites together but somehow makes them work and, especially when Frederick brings Curt along to Frederick’s father’s funeral, thrive. His family is mystified (well, not really, but no one talks about it). Curt actually seems happy playing the spousal role, even though he insists he won’t be monogamous or tied down.

Pennsylvania Station, then, is a detailed and totally believable examination of a mid-Sixties gay relationship. Its characters are real and its attitudes are wholly in line with the sentiments of the time. Well-written and accessible, it’s a classic in the making. It may only be March, but I know this one will show up on my ten best list in December. Count on it.

JW

© 2018 Jerry L. Wheeler

 

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