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Eros and Dust: Stories – Trebor Healey (Lethe Press)

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I picture three Trebor Healeys.

The dense forest hides many more, but three in particular creep out from the between the trees most often: one poetic, one crazed with lust, and one shaggy with heat and dust. A fourth one, regretful and elegiac, can also be relied upon for regular appearances. When all of them work in concert as they did in 2012 for A Horse Named Sorrow or Faun, their combined power is formidable. But the shorter pieces such as those found in his recent Lethe release, Eros and Dust: Stories, reveal the strength of those beasts on a more individual level.

That boy-crazed one may be the most prevalent, reigning supreme in “Los Angeles,” about a Chaturbate addict and a plan gone horribly wrong, the psuedo-pedophiliac “Lolito,” and the definitely pedophiliac “The Pancake Circus.” The latter is particularly disturbing, not for how off-track the narrator’s dick drives him, but for the way his Clown Daddy normalizes an abhorrent act. The metaphor is strong any time but becomes nearly prescient when seen in light of the current political situation.

Actually, this musk pervades all Healey’s stories as flawed characters use faulty reasoning to make bad choices. We’ve all been there, right? One of the differences between Healey’s longer fiction and his short stories is that very often the protagonists of the latter don’t get a chance at the redemption the heroes of his novels do–an odd omission due to the Catholicism exuded by these tales. It’s not that redemption isn’t possible (and I’m thinking for the narrators of “Los Angeles” and “Lolito” in particular); it’s just not presented as an option.

The horny Healey is usually flanked by the shaggy one, the hot grit he exudes providing a dusty, transient backdrop that serves the author well. Whether the setting is parched Los Angeles, the Oaxacan desert, or a PV resort, the Santa Ana winds blow hot on the heels of his characters. Going to the heat, getting out of the heat, dealing with the heat–all motivations that make these characters as restless as their lust.

The poetic one pokes his delicate nose in all stories as well, but makes memorable appearances in the character sketch “El Santo” and the transient restlessness of “Pilgrim Soul,” but again, this one’s influence is everywhere–especially on the too-short “Puppets”:

I started seeing his puppets all over the place…he made puppets who took pills and were cathetered; he made demon and angel puppets; puppets of crack whores and drag queens, muscle boys and campesinos; puppets in gabardine suits and puppets in silk kimonos. He made puppets of political personalities–Jesse Helms, Reagan and Bush, the Pope–and he made monstrous puppets named HIV and PCP, KS and CMV–big ogreish things with arms to their ankles and enormous malformed dicks. With big sad eyes. They looked back at me hungrily out of lit-up windows in darkened, empty shops on Guerrero or Valencia Street long after midnight, the fog sifting down, enveloping everything–all the streetlights like dandelion seeds.

And there’s that pesky, elegiac Healey, bringing forth his solemn reflections in the middle of the bawdiest episode to remind you that life reveals its most serious sides in quirky ways. Thus, the aforementioned “The Pancake Circus” becomes more an elegy to lost innocence than what its surface indicates. That’s the way the fourth dude works. Sometimes you don’t notice his effects until a couple of stories pass or until the whole thing plays out (“Imp”) and then his part in the liturgy becomes apparent.

Each voice is as distinctive in solo as it is an essential component of the blend. Truly a marvelous trick to pull off, and Trebor Healey does so. Highly recommended.

JW

© 2017 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Salvation – Jeff Mann (Bear Bones Books/Lethe Press)

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Any regular reader of this blog knows I’m a big fan of Jeff Mann, whose work never fails to inspire me with its depth and profundity. I was mightily disappointed when I did not get a chance to review his previous Civil War novel Purgatory. Another reviewer fell in love with the book and asked if he could take on the task. As I rarely get a chance to read anything that I can’t also feature on the blog (so many books, so little time…you know how it goes), I couldn’t get back to it. When I heard the sequel was being released, I grabbed the chance to read it. And my patience was well-rewarded.

In Purgatory, Yankee soldier Drew Conrad is captured and tortured by the Rebel soldiers, but war makes for strange bedfellows, and he falls in love with Rebel Ian Campbell, with whom he escapes. As Salvation begins, they are on the run in Rebel territory, trying to find a safe place to wait out the war so they can begin their lives together. They encounter a variety of Southerners in their travels–men, women, opportunists, sadists, and just plain folks–having to keep their love secret with all but one. Can they survive until war’s end and make new lives for themselves in the post-war South?

Perhaps Mann’s largest gift is his ability to take the political and social implications of the war and humanize them to such a degree that all that remains is the human face of conflict. And there are human faces aplenty, here. Not surprisingly, most of them belong to strong, nurturing women. That does not mean, however, that danger is far removed. Pursued by a band of Rebels who have splintered from their respective units and have banded together in a loose conglomeration of death and destruction, Drew and Ian are hardly safe. When their paths do cross, the carnage is as bloody as Mann can make it. But again, politics (other than the broadest kind) are secondary to human retribution.

Along the way, Mann makes the obligatory stops for his recurring peccadilloes of bondage and food. Both are explored in detail. I’ve said it before, but I’ll reiterate here that Jeff Mann is the only author I’ve ever read who can make bondage and sweat-soaked gags sound intriguing and erotic to me. It’s nothing I’d ever indulge in anywhere except the printed page, but…lordy, it makes me want to fan mahsaylf. But his descriptions of Southern cooking are even better–biscuits, gravy, ham, chicken and dumplings, beef stew, sweet potato pudding, creasy greens, barbecue, slaw, custard pie…well, the list goes on. One of the blurbs for this book should read, “A pound on every page.” Clearly, Mann relishes (I couldn’t resist typing that) writing about both bondage and food with equal gusto.

But as interesting and as well-written as those particular quirks are, Mann shines most brightly when creating characters. Drew and Ian spring ready-made from the last book, deepening and strengthening their relationship, so Mann must start from scratch with such wonderful minor characters as Irene Stephens, one of their female saviors. Christian but not puritanical, she’s tired of being bled dry of supplies by the local reverend, so she extracts a terrific retribution  on him and his church. But even she’s small potatoes (oh, dammit–more food) next to the former slave, Tessa, who shelters and feeds them. But the color of her skin is not all that separates her from the others in this book. She’s also a lesbian with a gal masquerading as a soldier in the Confederate ranks. That alone would make her special, but Mann endows her with an insatiable curiosity about the ways of “mens like you.” This character is a total delight that you’ll be thinking about long after her time on the page is finished.

Salvation, then, is an incredible read that teaches about the Civil War as well as it entertains. Full of richly nuanced people and heart-stopping situations of desperation and pursuit, it’s a worthy successor to Purgatory. And I can only hope for a third book that explores how Reconstructionism treats Drew and Ian. Highly, highly recommended.

© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Disturbing the Peace – Dale Chase (Bold Strokes Books)

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It’s no big secret that I’m a fan of Dale Chase’s work. Whether it’s her Victorian erotica, ghost stories, or modern erotica, it’s always impeccably researched, flawlessly written, and lovingly rendered. But her Westerns are absolute delights, and you can tell it’s a period she loves to be in. Nowhere is this more in evidence than her latest e-book release for Bold Strokes, Disturbing the Peace, containing four of her very best lawman-themed cowpoke tales so dusty you’ll have to wipe the Kindle off to see the screen.

The first story, “Solace,” finds Marshal Frank Sutcher accidentally shooting and killing Ted Mickle during a gunfight in Contention, Arizona. Mickle, an innocent bystander, was the marshal’s bedmate as well as his best friend. He cannot find an antidote to his sorrow, but he can find some sexual solace with his deputy as temporary relief. One of the things I find so enjoyable about Chase’s work is that her Western characters are iconically laconic. Their emotions are not stuffed away but neither do they appear on the surface, and so it is with Sutcher’s grief.

“Up For It,” the second piece, centers on a robber who contrives to escape from jail by seducing Deputy Dean. The robber’s actions are at once bold and brilliant as he struts his stuff with the deputy, even working a rifle barrel into the act before he finally catches the law with its pants down around its ankles.

Next up is “Shotgun,” which sees maybe the most direct opening line Chase has ever written: “I am looking to become a deputy in Tombstone, and to that end I suck the marshal’s dick.” Now, there’s a man who knows what he wants and how to get it. And get it he does. After orally embarking on his career path, he further ingratiates himself by foiling a robbery. He later hooks up with one of the robbers who gets away, only doesn’t realize it until after they’re finished.

The final, and longest, story, “Disturbing the Peace,” takes Chase into some territory whose borders she usually doesn’t broach, but neither does it stray too far from the archetypical Western themes of revenge and justice. Jack Timm is marshal of Globe, Arizona and works hard to keep the peace. He also plays hard with Pat, one of the local bartenders, but he’s always on top. Never bottoms. Never will. And he’s got a mean temper and a handy fist to keep his bottoms in place. One of those boys is Drew Culver, who Timm knew when they both drove cattle before Timm became marshal. Culver had been in love with Timm, but all Timm cared for was the sex. Spurned and forgotten, Culver robs the express office in Globe, luring Timm into a trap. He gets the drop on the marshal, ties him up, and gives him some of his own heavy-handed medicine, prompting swift and sure revenge from Timm.

Chase’s Westerns are classics of male erotica. The sex is incredibly hot, but that’s not the only reason to read her. I’ve said it before and I don’t mind saying again that everything about her cowboy stories rings true. From the dialogue to the sex to the attitude, there’s a level of truthfulness and veracity not many authors hit in period pieces, no matter what period. All I can do is read in awe.

And look forward to the next one.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Anything for a Dollar – Todd Gregory, ed. (Bold Strokes Books)

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As Todd Gregory also admits in his introduction to this volume of erotica about men paid for sex, I have been paid for my body as well. These days, however, the only way I could make any substantial money is if I charged by the pound. Still, there was a time when I was younger, cuter, and braver and my rent needed to be paid. I’m not ashamed of it. As I first heard from Modern English, it’s all part of “life’s rich tapestry.” And that tapestry has many threads, as evidenced by the variety of stories in  Anything for a Dollar.

The collection starts off strong with Max Thomas’s atmospheric, “In the Studio,” about a college student who starts off modeling to make a bit of cash (sounds familiar to me) but soon becomes engaged in both the situation and the sex. A longish story, it’s the perfect introduction as it really encapsulates what the book is about. But then we veer off into some rather unexpected territory.

Aaron Travis’s “The Adventure of the Rugged Youth” is a neat piece of Sherlock Holmes fanfic that wouldn’t have been out of place in Lethe Press’s recent A Study in Lavender as Holmes encounters a boy paid to seduce and kill Holmes in his sleep. Yet another reason not to let tricks stay over. Jay Starre takes to South America with his stripper story, “Private Dance in Rio,” one of two Starre entries here. More domestic but far stranger is Jeffrey Ricker’s “The Last Good-Bye,” which features a psychic sexual surrogate helping a man work through his grief for his late partner in a rather startling way.

Jeff Mann enters the fray with his hot tale of  a country boy’s paid lust for a blond businessman named Bjorn in “Penthouse,” which also (true to Mann’s form) contains some irresistable descriptions of several New Orelans feasts. Oh, and people get tied up as well. Davem Verne takes back to the subject of modeling with his story of Eurotrash posers, “Paris Euros Giles,”  but Rob Rosen prevents things from becoming too Eurocentric with “Revenge of the 97-Pound Weakling,” his delightful tale of a gymrat contest judge. Nathan Sims has a more supernatural take on the subject in “Haven’s Rest,” which sees a boy helping rid a backwoods ex-gay ministry of a particularly evil spirit.

Haley Walsh’s “Marked” takes me closer to familiar territory as he focuses in on the carnival life with a story of a tattooed man and an itinerant stud he calls Pink Boy, but as visitors to New York City know, the urban environment has its own charms. One of those is the subway, but Luke Oliver takes that rather prosaic setting and turns it into something…well, super with a capital “S” on its chest in “The Conductor.” William Holden gives us a historical perspective in “Debtors’ Prison,” and the inimitable Dale Chase rouses us once more with a tale of a Western rent boy with “A Few Dollars More.” We’ve all seen ugly hustlers and wondered how they were able to make a buck, and Lawrence Schimel enlightens us with his “Pity Fuck.” And then there’s Todd Gregory’s title story to wrap things up.

A word about availability. This title isn’t out until October 1st. Being a reviewer, I often receive advance copies of books. I try as much as possible to review them close to their release dates, but I was so anxious to dive into this collection that I paid no attention to the date and, thus, am reviewing it a bit early. But either of the above links will allow you to pre-order this terrific compendium of erotica, so feel free to do so.

It’s delayed gratification of the best kind.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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