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Deviant: Chronicles of Pride – Samhitha Reddy, ed. (Inkfeathers Publishing)

The anthology Deviant: Chronicles of Pride, complied by Samhitha Reddy, is a collection of nine stories and twenty-seven poems by twenty-two authors who belong to different parts of the globe, and is a fitting volume to celebrate the wonderful diversity of the LGBTQ+ community, especially during LGBT History Month (even though it ostensibly is a work of fiction, and not history per se). The collection begins with broad sections titled Spectrum Stories, Identities Beyond Boundaries, and Envision Transition, before focusing on specific stripes of the LGBTQ+ rainbow: Sapphic Classics, Gay Pride, Bi Visibility, Trans Narratives, Queer Factor, Asexual Confessional. One important lesson of the earlier sections is that the colors of the rainbow typically bleed one into the other—we are never just one identity; many of us experience an intersection of marginalizations and identities.

As noted above, this collection combines both prose and poetry, with a marked emphasis on the latter. The prose tends to be mostly autobiographical in nature, with a couple of obvious fiction contributions: “The Feathered Folk” by Amy Sutton (a delightful fable and a favorite of mine) and “Pardon me, do you do Weddings?” by Adam Gaffen (an excerpt from his science fiction series The Cassidy Chronicles, which follow the adventures of Aiyana Cassidy and Kendra Foster-Briggs, describing their wedding).

Among my favorite poems are the invocational “All Flowers Belong” by Deborah Mejía, which appropriately opens the book, and contains stanzas to numerous aspects of the LGBTQ+ spectrum, including non-binary, asexual, and trans members. Another favorite is “Our Queer Thoughts” by The Queer Community and Lily Rosengard. (Originally started by Rosengard, she later crowd-sourced material for the latter two thirds of the poem.) Like a piece of ancient wisdom poetry, it contains multitudes of paradoxical statements as well as back and forth questions and answers:

Queer means am I queer enough?

Queer means you have always been queer enough.

Queer means who is the gatekeeper of queerness?

Queer means there is no gatekeeper of queerness!

Queer truly does mean you are queer enough –

you have always been not just queer ‘enough’ –

but queer abundant

Another stand-out is the poem within Trans Narratives, “I am a Trans Woman and I am Tired,” by Christy Pineau. The narrator describes an LGBT film festival she attended, meant to celebrate LGBT heroes, only to discover that the “T” was represented by

The story of Brandon Teena.

The young trans man who was raped

and murdered by his friends

when he was discovered to be trans.

I re-read the poster on my way out of the library.

“Come witness the legacies of the pioneers of the LGBT movement!”

The “legacy” is one not of courage, but rather, loss and erasure. The dismay, anger, and fatigue expressed by Pineau is underscored by the fact that this is the only trans narrative in the collection.

As Reddy notes in her introduction, it would be impossible to represent every possible permutation of the LGBTQ+ spectrum (especially in such a slim volume); nevertheless, you may be surprised by the variety of voices contained herein. So if you are, say, an asexual lesbian you can find yourself represented here, and celebrate it; and just as important, if you are not an asexual lesbian, you can read her story and learn from her perspective.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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A Tale of Two Omars – Omar Sharif, Jr. (Counterpoint Press)

Omar Sharif, Jr. grew up under the shadow of his world-renowned grandfather, an acting legend and a hero in his home country of Egypt and beyond. The fact the younger Omar is gay will likely be sufficient to pique interest in his memoir from LGBTQ+ readers, and being in the closet, living a double life, and coming out are indeed major themes. More than that, Sharif has a heart-rending and at times surprising story to tell about how he became a global spokesperson for tolerance and intercultural understanding.

Sharif begins his memoir with his 2012 letter in the Advocate, through which he came out as both gay and half-Jewish and urged a reckoning in Egypt on the unfulfilled democratic goals of the 2011 revolution. Sharif considers himself a proud Egyptian, and he spent a good portion of his childhood there after his parents’ divorce. Sharif’s memoir includes his political observations and his hopes for Egypt and the greater Muslim world. But his approach is personal, sharing his own stories about how homophobia, racial prejudice, and religious condemnation challenged his ability to live an authentic life and ultimately shaped his humanistic convictions.

Sharif’s childhood was one of change and contrasts. His parents divorced soon after he was born, and he spent the school year in Montréal with a close-knit family that included his Jewish mother, his aunt, and their parents who were Holocaust survivors. A gentle, pretty boy, he was the target of anti-gay name-calling and bullying at school, while at home, he experienced vicarious trauma as he witnessed the lasting impact of the Holocaust on his grandparents Bubbie and Zadie. Then each summer, he took unchaperoned transatlantic flights to stay at his grandfather’s luxury properties in Egypt and Europe. In Montréal, his life was complicated, tough and introspective. In Egypt, it was carefree and indulgent, and since Omar Sharif, Sr. was a star, no one would dare make fun of his grandson.

Fame and fortune did not protect Sharif from life’s worst discontents, however, and his story demonstrates how homophobia is the ultimate equalizer. Childhood peers taught him to hate his gayness, and he knew intuitively his mother and father would disapprove of him (and they did for years after he came out). He contemplated suicide. In his teens, his only outlet was furtive and sometimes dangerous sexual encounters with older men. Though gifted with good looks and an easy sociability, he struggled to find romantic companionship in his young adulthood and suffered from depression. Later, he stumbled upon an opportunity to work for a wealthy and powerful Sheik, which turned out to be a nightmarish psychological and sexual imprisonment from which he could seek no aid from family members for fear of their stern judgment of his sexuality. These are harrowing tales of gay survival that need to be told, and they are no less courageous coming from a young man of privilege, a circumstance that Sharif acknowledges.

Furthermore, one appreciates the high stakes for Sharif in telling his story. After coming out in the Advocate, he received death threats, and for the sake of his personal safety, he could not attend his grandfather’s funeral in Egypt three years later. In Egypt, homosexuality is criminalized and reviled. His countrymen campaigned to revoke his citizenship. Interestingly, in the 1960s, his grandfather was also a target of expulsion from the country due to his Catholic Lebanese heritage and his affair with Barbara Streisand (the elder Sharif converted to Islam when he married the Egyptian actress Faten Hamama).

Sharif credits his grandfather with instilling him with the values of tolerance and inclusion as well as a love of languages and being the life of the party. There’s some complexity in his characterization of Omar Sr. however, as he does not shy away from mentioning his grandfather’s infidelities nor his mental decline late in life. Sharif’s reflections on his grandfather’s dementia are some of the most affecting passages in his memoir.

His purposes get muddled a bit as he jumps around to adventures in fashionable districts of London and his arrival in Hollywood, which come across as name-dropping moments to authenticate the author’s insider status. But overall, Sharif’s memoir succeeds where it needs to the most. By the end of the book, one feels like they know him. As a reader who knew next to nothing about the younger Omar, I can say he’s gained a fan.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

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The Complete Leonard & Larry Collection – Tim Barela (Rattling Good Yarns Press)

I remember “Leonard & Larry” from The Advocate as well as other publications, but I hadn’t thought of them for years. And even when I read them back then, they seemed less pointed than Alison Bechdel’s “Dykes to Watch Out For,” but I was heavily into activism and politics at the time. The gentle domestic humor seemed to escape me, but I hadn’t yet experienced domesticity and had no frame of reference. Forty-odd years later, however, I get it–and Rattling Good Yarns Press has done an admirable job of collecting these strips in a comprehensive coffee table edition you’re sure to enjoy.

For the uninitiated, Barela’s strip is populated by Leonard, a Jewish photographer, and his husband, Larry, a divorced father who owns a leather shop. Together, they negotiate the tricky straits of a monogamous relationship, parents, children (and grandchildren), and the usual tribulations life has to offer, and they do so with wit, grace, and good-natured bickering, remaining the constant in the lives of the other characters. This chronological presentation gathers all four “Leonard & Larry” books: Domesticity Isn’t Pretty, Kurt Cobain and Mozart Are Both Dead, Excerpts from the Ring Cycle in Royal Albert Hall, and How Real Men Do It along with some other unpublished curiosities.

Unlike many other comic characters of this era, Barela’s characters actually age, so the reader gets a sense of the passage of time and lives being lived. And how they live! One of my favorite characters is Larry’s leather shop employee, Jim, who gets involved with a priest and, eventually, a guy named Merle who becomes a television star. Then there’s Larry’s straight son, Leonard’s mother (who refuses to believe he’s gay and keeps setting him up), and for sheer, unadulterated strangeness, a terrific regularly reoccuring bit that has Johannes Brahms and Peter Tchaikovsky as gay ghosts.

Leonard and Larry and friends run the gamut, and are there to see the guys through everything from live childbirth (Larry’s grandson) to gay bashing to stalkers to new neighbors. The humor is always kind and somewhat subtle, but that’s not to say the strip doesn’t have balls. Barela was unafraid to take on any subject and if his takes occasionally slide into sitcom territory, he was taking his queer characters there before mostly anyone else, and it’s both liberating and smile-inducing.

So if you only vaguely remember the strip from its days in Gay Comix, The Advocate, or Frontiers, you never missed it, or you never heard of it, you’re in for a big, big treat. Kudos to Ian Henzel at Rattling Good Yarns Press for remembering these guys and giving them a loving, hardcover treatment. Highly recommended.

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Jacob’s Ladder – Louis Flint Ceci (Les Croyens/Beautiful Dreamer Press)

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Ceci’s third installment in a 1960s small town high school drama centers on an ascendant boys’ basketball team and the community’s private struggles. Deft and subtle handling of the economic and racial tensions of the time grounds the story and provides a realistic and compelling atmosphere.

It’s reminiscent of a soap opera, not to suggest melodrama, but Ceci employs a huge cast of characters and quick, alternating viewpoint scenes to build his narrative. The story opens with the lead character, sixteen-year-old Malachi “Jake” Jacob, stumbling upon the Stonewall riots while visiting New York City, which draws his curiosity as a budding gay teen. When violence increases on the streets, Jake takes refuge in an apartment building lobby and meets a young, more sexually liberated man, Vince. Romantic sparks ignite.

But Jake’s journey to figure out how to live as gay is just one of several themes. The narrative jumps back and forth between many people who make up fictional Croy, Oklahoma. The result is a well-realized American “everytown,” a character in and of itself, though readers will likely want to start with the first book in the series, which I didn’t have the advantage of doing. In some instances, it’s hard to follow the characters’ motivations, lacking a full grasp of their personal histories and their histories with each other.

Jake is welcomed home from his summer in New York City by his best friend Joanie, who is dedicated to managing the high school newspaper and in an on-the-rocks relationship with Jake’s friend Randy. Randy then enters the story as a young man who keeps a lot beneath the surface. His storyline is one of those instances where it would help to have read the earlier books. Randy’s father is a fugitive from a crime that’s not explained and meanwhile Randy comes into a sizeable inheritance through circumstances that sound significant to the town’s history though the details must’ve come up earlier in the series. There’s tension between Jake and Randy regarding Jake’s gayness, and the boys’ relationship is depicted with intriguing complexity. Does Randy’s anger toward Jake stem from homophobia or is he jealous of Jake’s boyfriend and/or Jake’s easy friendship with Joanie?

Interwoven with that love triangle of sorts, the three leads characters’ family members are introduced and present new dramas. Jake’s mother Susan is a hometown hero, having made it as a TV soap opera actress. She’s also a patron of the town’s conservative, Christian restorationist church and largely an absent parent. Jake’s father was a reverend of some notoriety in town, and Joanie’s family, the Tibbits, who have taken on informal guardianship of Jake, are devout Catholics. The religious affiliations of Croy’s inhabitants are an important layer to the community, which like many small towns is a patchwork of Christian denominations that influence social transactions and personal biases.

The big news that school year is Croy High School will be hosting students from a largely Black high school, which lost its roof in a storm. One consequence is that Black students will be joining Croy’s basketball team, and that presents a challenge to Jake, his teammates, and their families. Ceci depicts the circumstances with just enough attention to spoken and unspoken tensions to make the reader think about the realities of racial integration in the 1960s. One admires the author’s restraint and effective storytelling.

Supporting characters provide some of the story’s most engaging moments. The basketball team rallies around their co-captain Al Mattingly, who becomes gravely ill mid-season. A young diabetic girl, Bobbie, struggles to understand the world as she begins to step out from her family’s Christian fundamentalist home. A bookish young man, Beau, suffers ridicule and violence from his peers for being soft and presumably queer. A basketball coach and a male teacher try to maintain a secret affair within a community that would condemn them. In contrast, the basketball court scenes that take up much of the latter half of the book lack a bit of universal appeal, but there’s a lot to enjoy about Ceci’s Croy. A great book for readers with a sense of nostalgia about the late 1960s as well as those who enjoy well-crafted period dramas.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

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Foxhunt – Rem Wigmore (Queen of Swords Press)

In the far, far future, humanity not only has pulled itself from the brink of planetary collapse but has even managed to create a utopian society where the Earth is honored, and inclusion and diversity are celebrated. The poisons of the Industrial Age have been eradicated, solar power has replaced fossil fuels, and the Order of the Vengeful Wild punishes resource hoarders and energy criminals. Into this world the singer Orfeus (she/her) finds herself the target of the Order—specifically, of the Wolf, the preeminent bounty hunter of the Order. When the Elders—near-immortal preservers of all the old lore deemed worth saving—can provide Orfeus with no clear reasons why the Wolf should be hunting her, she makes the ultimate gamble and joins the Order itself in order to learn who placed the contract on her, and why.

Rem Wigmore’s novel Foxhunt is a delightful mixture of high fantasy, science fiction, and dystopian fiction. And benefiting such a genre-mashing novel, Wigmore’s cast of characters encompasses all aspects of the LGBTQ+ spectrum and expresses numerous genders. Moreover, it is not surprising that “magic” can exist side by side with super advanced technology, or that the quasi-medieval setting with itinerant bards and common inns would also include surgically augmented mercenary soldiers who fight with super-powered weapons. (Rarely, Wigmore’s world of contradictions includes a jarring note, for example, when they describe a character as “Vietnamese” when no other current nationalities or place-names are mentioned; such a description seems anachronistic and out of place.)

Unlike most post-apocalyptic dystopias, the far-future Earth that Wigmore writes about in Foxhunt did not suffer an actual apocalypse—or at least, not quite: humanity apparently reached the brink, but was able to retreat in time and reverse the damage. So Foxhunt is far more optimistic in tone than most dystopian fiction; which is not to say that Orfeus does not have to wrestle with moral ambiguity: in a world where resources are rationed and (presumably) shared equably, she notices that members of the Order eat meat every day. Her decision to join the Order results not in answers to her questions, but rather further questions: What is the true purpose of the Order? Has it strayed from that purpose? Can it be reformed? Is it worth saving? (To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, you have a Utopia only if you work to keep it.) As Orfeus gradually uncovers answers (and more questions), she is forced to make some difficult decisions.

Foxhunt is a welcome addition to the Queen of Swords catalog: truly imaginative world-(re)building, diverse characters, breathtakingly paced action, a sense of mystery, and moral complexity will keep readers engaged, turning pages until the end, and wondering when Orfeus’ adventures will continue.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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The Mayor of Oak Street – Vincent Traughber Meis (NineStar Press)

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Nathan Landis, dubbed “the Mayor of Oak Street” by his father, knows a lot of secrets: in 1960s Illinois, where small-town residents mind each other’s business, he has a habit of entering into the unlocked homes of his paper route customers, and so knows who keeps a less-than-spotless house, who might be addicted to diet pills, which unmarried couple of female roommates might be…something more than just roommates. Of course, Nate himself has his own secrets: the aforementioned habit of trespassing, his own growing dependence on the diet pills he steals, and the slowly dawning awareness that he might be…different.

These secrets all come to a head—explosively—after Nicholas Baronian and his family move to Oak Street. The athletic, musical, cultured doctor immediately captivates Nate, who enters Dr. B’s empty house at every opportunity. It is during one such “visit” that Nate spies Dr. B going down on James Beard, his tennis partner, when his wife is out of town. And finally, some years later, when Mrs. Baronian uncovers the truth and shoots James, it is Nate who helps Dr. B deal with the immediate fallout. Although not implicated in the ensuing scandal, once Dr. B leaves town, Nate relies more and more on drugs to cope; first with the stresses of high school, then the stresses of attending Tulane, and the perils and pitfalls of coming out and first love. And when Nate’s relationship with Marc, his first boyfriend, ends, along with an unexpected chance meeting with Dr. B, Nate’s downward spiral culminates with a visit to the ER.

Meis’ novel defies easy categorization: darker than most coming-of-age stories (it has a trigger warning on the copyright page), it likewise guarantees no happy ending for these potential lovers, or even that Nate will escape his self-destructive trajectory. The carefree mix of sex, drugs, and found family reminds one of Tales of the City, albeit set in New Orleans instead of San Francisco. But it is the turbulent events of the Sixties and Seventies (e.g., the Vietnam War, Kent State) playing out in the background that reinforce the novel’s somber tone. For all that Meis uses actual historical events to ground his novel, it is not a “historical” novel as such; for example, while Woodstock is mentioned, Nate attends a similar music festival in Florida instead. Similarly, the Stonewall Riots are mentioned in passing, but it is the the devastating fire at the Up Stairs Lounge in 1973 that Meis focuses on; that tragedy actually takes center stage for several chapters and propels the narrative, forcing matters between Nate and Dr. B to a climax. Although Meis may not have intended to write a historical novel, The Mayor of Oak Street does provide a glimpse of a more “innocent” time, as the era between Stonewall and the onslaught of AIDS is sometimes portrayed, seen through the eyes of a flawed protagonist. The view, however, is not nostalgic: finally having his fill of secrets, Nate looks unflinchingly at his own life, and the times he lived in, and lays all those secrets bare.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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The Audacity of a Kiss: Love, Art & Liberation – Leslie Cohen (Rutgers University Press)

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Anyone who’s made the pilgrimage to the Stonewall Inn in NYC’s Christopher Park has seen George Segal’s “Gay Liberation” sculpture of two men standing and two women conversing on a bench. Despite the repeated vandalism, calls of Segal’s “whitewashing,” and other controversies surrounding the monument, it remains an empowering testament to the endurance of gay men and women everywhere. Like many artists, Segal worked from models, using friends of his–including the couple on the bench, Leslie Cohen and her wife, Beth Suskin, as detailed in Cohen’s recent autobiography, The Audacity of a Kiss.

Posing for statuary is not Cohen’s only claim to posterity, however. She was also a mover and shaker in the New York City art scene for many years as well as one of the cofounders of NYC’s first women-owned women’s nightclub, Sahara. Although she does cover those achievements, The Audacity of a Kiss is also effective and interesting when relating the life behind the deeds.

Frank regarding the failings of both her prison-bound father and her abusive brother, she is equally plain-spoken about the adoration of her mother, who became in part the only role model she had, and we can all relate to Cohen’s awkward entrance into puberty with all its conflicting feelings and enforced gender role difficulties. We also share the wonderful feelings of possibility in her college years, where she’s almost there in terms of career and study, but still has miles to go regarding her sexuality. This, however, is where she first meets the woman who would many years later become her wife, Beth.

Out of school, she became involved in the art world through Robert Pincus-Warren, managing galleries and finding herself sexually. Once that last piece falls into place, she seems to gain a purpose. Along with some friends, she decides to buck the male Mafia-owned bar trend and go into business with Sahara, the first women-owned nightclub for women. It was an immediate success, featuring live music and fundraisers on Thursday night, throwing Cohen into contact with names like Pat Benetar, Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinam, Jane Fonda, and Patti Smith. But, as any bar owner will tell you, managing one is a balancing act. She becomes disenchanted with late nights and cocaine, and eventually the bar is shuttered by the building’s owner, and she has to start over.

Cohen’s story is punctuated by bouts of starting over, especially with the support of Beth, who comes back into her life married. They begin a rollercoaster affair, eventually ending up with each other. Cohen relates the story of her life with candor and a far less self-serving attitude than you’ll find in many autobiographies. Although it’s a short-ish, quick read, The Audacity of a Kiss is interesting and relatable. Well worth the time spent.

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Kiss the Scars on the Back of My Neck: Stories – Joe Okonkwo (Amble Press)

It’s been a long time since Okonkwo’s brilliant novel, Jazz Moon, so I was stoked when I heard Amble Press was releasing a collection of Joe Okonkwo stories. And they had a lot to live up to. Jazz Moon was notable for its rich characterizations and deft plotting, but I needn’t have worried. Kiss the Scars on the Back of My Neck more than lives up to that promise.

Betrayal looms large in Okonkwo’s work: betrayal of family, of friends, of love, and even of self. This betrayal slaps the reader lightly in the first story, “Picnic Street,” sucker punches you in “Skin,” and delivers a fierce right cross with “Paulie”. Of this initial triptych, the latter two stories had the most impact for me. The protagonist of “Skin” suffers from body image issues, using those issues to destroy a new love. Its final scene, though inevitable, is heartbreaking and will linger in your memory. “Paulie” sees the title character betraying his family, especially his mother, with a devastating act that both shames and empowers him, schooling the boy in the fragility of relationships and how easily they can be decimated. His realization that he is good at creating such castrophe is truly chilling.

“Gift Shop” is an interesting piece in which betrayal is the catalyst rather than the denouement. Our protagonist, Nina, finds out about her husband’s infidelities with a younger man only to have him ask to move said young man into the house and the relationship. He doesn’t want a divorce, but wants to live in perfect marital harmony with both of them. Nina considers this the last straw and says she’s moving out. But she doesn’t do so. Paralleling that storyline, Nina also finds her position at the museum gift shop where she works usurped by a younger, hipper, man. You’ll never see the resolution coming.

“The Girls’ Table” is the first story to feature Cedric, a young Black man who is one of the main protagonists in the title piece. In “Fluff,” an older man finds employment in an unexpected place. Okonkwo returns to the Harlem Renaissance of Jazz Moon in “You Can’t Do That to Gladys Bentley,” which tells a tale of intolerance featuring the controversial, cross-dressing nightclub star, and then tugs at your heart with “Cleo,” a simple tale of a man and his cat.

The final story, “Kiss the Scars on the Back of My Neck” sees the return of Cedric, now a grown bisexual denizen of Queens and an opera buff who has a fight with his girlfriend Melanie and goes to see Madame Butterfly, meeting a cultured, uptown Black artist named Paul. Both relationships are rocky, uneven power struggles, but, again, it takes a betrayal for Cedric to make a decision between his two paramours.

Kiss the Scars on the Back of My Neck is a high-powered collection of well told stories, full of the kind of engaging characters we’ve come to expect from Okonkwo. There’s not a duff one in the bunch. Highly recommended!

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

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The Anarchists’ Club – Alex Reeve (Felony & Mayhem Press)

I’m always up for historical fiction and historical mysteries are a big plus, so I was really excited to receive this volume in the mail from Michele Karlsberg introducing me to trans man Victorian detective Leo Stanhope. This the second book, and if I didn’t have a TBR stack that now extends to three coffee tables, I’d be anxious to read the first one. I’ll definitely be looking for the third.

Born Charlotte “Lottie” Pritchard, Leo Stanhope carries that big secret as best he can, staying at the chemist shop with its proprietor, Alfie, working at the hospital, and playing chess with his friend, Jacob. His quiet life, however, is about to get hectic when he becomes involved with the murder of a customer, Dora Harrington near her residence inside a controversial club for political outsiders. Not only was his name and address found in her pocket, but he’s also threatened by a man to provide him with a alibi or he’ll expose Leo as Lottie. Added to the mix are Dora’s children, Aidan and Ciara, whom Leo feels responsible for. He wants to find a home for them, but the closer he gets to solving the mystery of her murder, the farther away from that goal he seems to be.

Reeves does an excellent job setting up the Victorian atmosphere, both in terms of character and setting. The mystery of who killed Dora is interesting and engaging, full of twists and turns, especially toward the end. I also found Stanhope’s interest in the children to be heartfelt, Reeve setting up a fascinating dichotomy between Stanhope’s innate maternal instinct contrasted with the desire to present as a single father. Those two, of course, are not mutually exclusive, but the author illustrates the perils of such an arrangement well, especially considering the time period.

Stanhope’s father is also in poor health, adding a familial air to the plot. He left home under a cloud, and his father doesn’t know what became of him. His sister, however, does, and she’s none too happy about it–especially when he asks her to hide the children from the parties seeking them. They have a very tentative relationship with little but their father in common, and when Stanhope goes back to make amends with the old man, he does so not as Charlotte but as Leo.

The Anarchists’ Club, then, is a great little mystery with some politicial overtones guaranteed to whet your appetite for more Leo Stanhope. Well recommended!

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Warn Me When It’s Time – Cheryl Head (Bywater Books)

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Charlie Mack does it again–or, rather Cheryl Head does. The sixth book of the Charlie Mack police procedural series is of a piece with the other five entries, meaning it’s snappy, engaging, full of action and food, and chock full of local Detroit flavor.

A local hate group has been running rampant, using robberies and arson at many mosques, temples, and Black churches to intimidate Muslims and people of color throughout the metro area. The latest bombing has killed a prominent imam, but his children don’t feel the police are doing all they can to solve the murder. So they hire the Mack Agency to take control and get some answers. When Charlie and her people start digging, however, they find a conspiracy that reaches all the way to the top of local government–and beyond.

The character of Charlie Mack is well enough established in this series that Head feels comfortable and secure enough to let her take a backseat in favor of another character. In this installment, it’s stalwart Don Rutkowski who goes undercover with the aid of the FBI, just as Charlie herself did in Catch Me When I’m Falling. He, however, does not get to be homeless. Instead, he becomes a serial bomber. And Don himself is undergoing some changes in attitude, working on his own prejudices acquired during the World Trade Center disaster in 2011 and his time in the military.

But Charlie doesn’t disappear entirely. There are plenty of glimpses into her home life with partner Mandy and their dog, Hamm. And the ever capable secretary-turned-investigator Judy Novak is back as well, turning her hand to a number of tasks both in and out of the office.

And speaking of characters, Head introduces Robert “Robbie” Barrett, a young computer whiz working for the White Turks hate group, then the FBI, then…who knows? He turns out to be a major factor in the tension here because you never quite know whose side he’s on until the very end. And Head wisely leaves her options open regarding using him again. I’d love to see him return in a future installment.

Warn Me When It’s Time, then, is a solid, well-done entry in the Charlie Mack Motown Mystery series, guaranteed to please old fans and make new ones. Anxiously awaiting the next…

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

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