Monthly Archives: August 2018

FlabberGassed – Michael Craft (Questover Press)

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Already the writer of two other well-received mystery series, Michael Craft begins a new series set in the quiet town of Dumont, Wisconsin. Followers of Craft’s oeuvre will immediately recognize the setting from his Mark Manning series, and the characters of Marson Miles and Brody Norris, protagonists of his short story collection Inside Dumont. These short stories chronicled their meeting and courtship, events alluded to in Craft’s current FlabberGassed; now we find out what has happened to these two charming men, who have started their own architecture firm, and to the larger community they call home as well.

Ugly undercurrents brew beneath the idyllic surface of Dumont: current politics have intruded at a small-town level, when Sheriff Thomas Sims is up for re-election, his main opponent being an angry, racist deputy. Meanwhile the appropriately named Glee Savage chronicles all the small town happenings in the local Dumont Daily Register, much to everyone’s chagrin, and wealthy widow Mary Questman has been adopted by an exotic stray Abyssinian she has named Mister Puss—a cat that she insists speaks to her (or at least communicates with her via its purring). Several friends express concern that Mary may finally be losing it, including Brody. Into this mix of unusual personalities we must add the flamboyant Dr. Francis Frumpkin, a dermatologist with a revolutionary new weight-loss program, the eponymous “FlabberGas.” Frumpkin taps Brody to design the prototype of his “FlabberGas” clinics, and solicits Mary for start-up capital; but when a public demonstration of the process results in the death of Frumpkin’s own son-in-law, then all these characters come to a head, and everybody’s a suspect. Sherriff Sims calls on Brody to help him with the investigation, and soon Brody’s involvement leads to an attempt on his own life.

Craft’s return to the genre of gay mysteries, albeit in an entirely new direction (a book-length cat mystery) is handled masterfully. Craft keeps Brody and the reader guessing until almost the very end as to who the killer is, and the reason for the dastardly deed. Several characters have obvious motives against Dr. Frumpkin, and Brody spends most of his time eliminating suspects; interestingly, his interrogation leads him to some insights into his own family’s past. (His investigation also allows him to meet a very attractive suspect—who presents Brody with the following dual ethical conundrum: can Brody resist Dahr’s advances, for the sake of his own relationship with Marson, and remain impartial enough to aid Sheriff Sims?) And regardless of whether the reader is willing to suspend enough disbelief to accept a cat who communicates with humans, Mister Puss helps Brody’s investigation more by leading him to consider options hitherto unexplored, than by actually telling him who he should question. (In fact, it is another character’s interaction with Mister Puss that provides the key clue that helps Brody solve the case.)

At turns humorous, sexy, and even poignant, FlabberGassed is an entertaining read with a likeable protagonist, a tranquil town disrupted by a chilling crime, a colorful cast of characters, and a snarky cat; what’s not to like?

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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The Rushes – Richard Natale (Avid Publishing)

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The Rushes by Richard Natale is aptly named:  like any Hollywood action blockbuster, it rushes forth at breakneck speed, replete with drama, romance, sex, and humor.  Natale, a veteran of the movie industry himself, captures perfectly the frantic, frentic pace of the business, and its ruthless politics and ingrained prejudices as well.  The two male leads are Jamie Alford and Carson Thorne:  working as an editor of video games and a coffeehouse barista as the novel opens, the two BFFs first met as freshmen at Westford, an exclusive prep school in remote Oregon before entering and graduating from CAL U School of Film.  Although they first bonded over their shared sexual orientation, their initial physical relationship is short-lived and eventually becomes superseded by their mutual love of film.

Intent upon someday making films together, Jamie and Carson gradually climb up the Hollywood ladder:  the former lands an assistant position at a post-production house, rising to junior editor, while the latter is hired to be first assistant to Zach Corrigan, a volatile producer at Timbuktu Studios.  Similarly, their love lives also begin taking off:  Carson, normally über-focused on his career, falls fast and hard for Clete, an equally ambitious screenwriter, when he arrives at Timbuktu to pitch a film, whereas Jamie meets Lance, a dashing young producer who is too good to be true.  (And even distracting enough to make Jamie forget about his tortured, closeted, and hyper-religious ex Owen.  Almost.)

Naturally, the course of true love—or of one’s career trajectory—never did run smooth, especially when the two are so hopelessly entwined.  Both Jamie and Carson end up being betrayed by their respective lovers and the business; and like a good buddy flick, both must come to the aid of the other when their professional and personal lives fall apart.  They do have help, of course, supported by David Mendoza, a former professor of theirs who not only helps them get their feet in the door, but continues to mentor them.  In a business where its members are too competitive to be truly cooperative, David provides a rare model to both Jamie and Carson of how to get ahead in Hollywood without losing one’s soul.  (And forgive the spoiler, but I think that it is telling that Jamie and Carson each end up with a partner outside of the industry.)

Amidst the work tragedy, relationship drama, and family dysfunction, at its heart The Rushes is a tale about friendship, and that is what I find so unusual and appealing about it—most M/M stories I read nowadays presume that the two male protagonists will end up into bed together, and that is not the case here.  And in a story about the betraying, back-stabbing business that is Hollywood, it is heartening to read that the two men at the center of it not only are friends (without that annoying qualifier “just”), but remain friends throughout.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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Acres of Perhaps: Stories and Episodes – Will Ludwigsen (Lethe Press)

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Although the books I review are mostly queer, occasionally I’ll publish a review of something that’s only tangentially queer or not queer at all. But as this space is dedicated to queer lit, any deviation has to be really worthwhile, and Will Ludwigsen’s Acres of Perhaps: Stories and Episodes fills that bill.

Ludwigsen’s imagination is incredibly fertile, and he is at his best when taking well-known events, situations, or people and warping them out of orbit. The title story is a perfect example. The tale of David Findley, chief writer of a fictional Sixties horror anthology television series called “Acres of Perhaps,” proves a strong start to Ludwigsen’s collection. This aspirational “Twilight Zone” has become a cult classic, studied in universities, and generally revered by rabid fans. But auteur Findley has a secret life, including a wife and in-laws, which catches up to him and snatches him back from life as a writer in L.A. I don’t want to present any spoilers, but this story of alternate lives and parallel time lines captivates with its elegance and poetry.

The “Acres of Perhaps” TV show also appears between stories in the form of episode synopses, and though the book is only five stories long, each one of them packs an incredible punch. “The Zodiac Walks on the Moon” reimagines that serial killer’s correspondence to startling effect, but the next three stories are the longest and the ones which have lingered longest in my memory.

“The Leaning Lincoln” starts off as if it’s going to be a talisman story about an object that causes harm to anyone possessing it, but it becomes much more than that as it refocuses from the boy possessing the poorly-made Lincoln figurine to the fate of the figurine’s maker and how the boy’s father (whose evil only matches that of my own father) induces him to commit a horrible crime. This one made me shut down my Kindle after I was finished and do a lot of thinking and staring out the window. “Poe at Gettysburg” is a fascinating bit of revisited history featuring Edgar Usher Poe as President of these United States dedicating the cemetery at Gettysburg with that famous address. But it’s no less fascinating than “Night Fever,” which transplants Charlie Manson and his Family to the disco era, putting Manson in a white cowboy suit and a truck bomb in the middle of Studio 54. Oh, and both Steve Rubell and Truman Capote make appearances as well. That it does so in an epistolary format, comprised of book and magazine excerpts and transcribed interviews, is even more interesting.

Maybe Acres of Perhaps captured me so because it cleaves so closely to my own spheres of interest: Poe, serial killers, Sixties TV, and shitty parenting, but whatever the reason, Ludwigsen’s talent for imagining and creating the perfect vehicles for those flights of fancy is unquestionable. It’s the best non-queer book I’ve read all year long. Highly, highly recommended.

JW

© 2018 Jerry L. Wheeler

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