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The Boy With The Painful Tattoo: Holmes & Moriarity 3

4/5. M/M, third in the mystery series featuring two writers.

I started this last night when I took the dog out for her evening constitutional, and then it kept me company through the 4 a.m. insomnia. I didn't read this for the mystery (fine, but not engaging) or the genre jokes (many and charmingly bad). I sorta read it for the relationship, which is delightful and unusual in that these are two grownups who often fight with each other about things that grownups fight about! Imagine that.

Really, I read it for the protagonist. He's forty with a bad back and a vicious streak and a career on the rocks and a commitment to misanthropy that delights me. He's got piles of baggage and he doesn't fight fair, and he's the sort of guy who will say, "You're only hearing this once," over some romantic expression. He is just so cranky and vivid, and he doesn’t like kids, and he snarks on absolutely everything. He is aging ungracefully and he's a lot of work to love, but he's still allowed to be sexy. And falling in love has nothing to do with learning to smile or love the kid: it just involves wrangling boundaries at every turn. And I dig it.

Ugh, I really needed good satisfying M/M with actual human beings in it. Josh Lanyon is here for me.
In From the Cold: The I Spy Stories (I Spy, collected)In From the Cold: The I Spy Stories by Josh Lanyon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three connected novellas about the British spy trying to get out of the game and settle down with his rightfully mistrustful ex, the American country doctor.

This audiobook narrator has an . . . interesting grasp of accents, let's just leave it at that. I mention that because this whole series is done in a fake accent, in the stylistic sense. Lanyon is playing around with some of the more obvious clichés of the spy genre: the love of classic literature, a hero with a quotation for every occasion and a complete inability to not take himself way too seriously, etc. And it all has that ring of the narrator's put-on accents – paper thin to the point where I'd just rather he . . . didn't.

Perfectly serviceable, though, if you want bite-sized chunks of angsty domesticity punctuated by brief bouts of violence.

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The Dickens With LoveThe Dickens With Love by Josh Lanyon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

M/M Christmas novella about the antiquarian book dealer with a tragical past and the British professor selling a lost Dickens book. Cute, with all the expected grace notes – deception, misunderstanding, self-hatred, the sort of resolution where everything works out because people just spontaneously decide to trust each other. So, you know, fine.

But man oh man, don't read Josh Lanyon for the porn. Don't get me wrong, at his best (which this is not) he's totally worth the investment for the depth of character and emotional range. But there's something so very dated about his style of sex scene -- the writing gives me intense nostalgia for late 90's fanfic, back when everyone was still scared of using the word 'penis.' And by dated, I mean hilarious.

That pump and pull was like a hammer striking the golden frame of angel wings, pounding them into shining, glinting pennants. Perspiration sheened our bodies, and our breath grew harsher as we bent our backs and worked this forge. And then the wings began to beat, trying to take flight, moving faster and faster, and we seemed to lift right off the ground, right off the pillows and bedding and hang there, transfixed as warm white halle freakin lujah surged through.


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Come Unto These Yellow SandsCome Unto These Yellow Sands by Josh Lanyon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Classic Lanyon dynamic -- [insert artistic inclination here] narrator with [insert tragical condition/past here] gets tangled up in a [insert type of crime investigation] while his hard-nosed cop boyfriend glowers a lot. Here that would be poet, drug addiction, and murder, respectively.

Totally serviceable, in that way they are when the formula works for you.

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Mexican Heat (Crimes & Cocktails, #1)Mexican Heat by Laura Baumbach

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

We interrupt this flow of childhood nostalgia rereads to bring you some gay porn -- excuse me, "manlove."

This is the one about the two undercover LEO's in a mob war and one of them calls the other -- I swear to God, I am not kidding about this -- gatito and there's lots of sexual dominance and tragedy and eventually some really dubious disability content. There is an exponentially higher component of batshittery than I usually expect out of Josh Lanyon, but you know, for that long stretch from 2 to 5 a.m. when there's just absolutely no way I'm getting to sleep, I was really down with that. In the light of day . . . yikes.

The thing with the limes and the net bags? That wasn't sexy, not even at 4:30 in the morning.

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Snowball in Hell (Doyle and Spain, #1)Snowball in Hell by Josh Lanyon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

[Advance reader copy. The title was released several years ago, but is being re-released in extended form, I think to launch a series.]

A murder mystery and gay romance in early 1940’s Los Angeles, in which a widowed cop teams up with a reporter just home from the front.

I think, to the extent Lanyon’s usual readership may be dissatisfied with this long novella, it may be because it’s not an easy read. One of our protagonists has been driven to the brink of suicide; they are both all but choking on internalized homophobia. Writing a gay historical is difficult, for most periods, because either the end is laughably and anachronistically full of sunshine, or the grim realities of deception and fear and self-loathing bury the cotton candy romance at the heart of the genre. This one does a pretty good job of navigating that, without losing site of either point.

I think, actually, this story really ought to have been a full length novel, with a more elaborate mystery and a slower unfold of the relationship. There’s a lot of richness here, and some pretty dark waters are stirred up. I think it could have gone a lot deeper.

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His For The HolidaysHis For The Holidays by Josh Lanyon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

M/M romance, rated for enjoyment, not quality. Oh, and the “Holidays” in the title is there for alliteration, not multiculturalism. It’s more like His for Christmas Except Also There’s That One Jewish Guy. In no particular order:

ZA Maxfield, “I Heard Him Exclaim.” Schmaltz, and boy howdy. A mindlessly enjoyable story about two men finding each other, punctuated by some terrible writing. Seriously, check this out: “Chandler inched his way forward again, angling to either hit Steve’s sweet spot or pierce his heart like an hors d’ouvre.” I sporfled so violently when I read that, I banged my temple off a train window. The unfortunate mental imagery! The terrible muddle of literalism and simile! And that simile – ha, yes, because when you’re writing about two guys falling in love, clearly the appropriate association to draw is to one of them putting the other’s heart on a stick and eating it!

You’re welcome.

Harper Fox, “Nine Lights Over Edinburgh.” A standout in quality and depth, featuring a middle-aged, alcoholic, slightly bent cop with massive internalized homophobia issues. Fox also seems cognizant of the ways his genre – and this narrative in particular – treat female characters badly, as disposable props. Unfortunately, the formulaic romance fell flat when slapped over this promising mix. Eyes meet across a crowded room, danger, grief, blah, love for no explicable reason, porn, blah.

Josh Lanyon, “Icecapade.” Why I snagged the book. The one about Noel the retired diamond thief, and the FBI agent who’s been chasing him for years. Suspend disbelief by neck until dead. It’s basically White Collar future fic with the serial numbers filed off. By which I mean I thought it was great.

L.B. Gregg, “Mistletoe at Midnight.” Acceptably schmaltzy tale of old lovers reuniting, marred by a background family that’s supposed to be charmingly eccentric, but was just embarrassing and uncomfortable. Also some really odd fatphobic undertones.

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Fair GameFair Game by Josh Lanyon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started this book about six hours ago, just after eleven last night, and read it through in bleary bursts, folded in half in a wooden-armed hospital chair. My feet tucked up to keep warm, disentangle every hour or so to stretch out and pace. Midnight vitals check, three a.m. narcotics, realizing that I’ve heard everything that the woman in the other half of the room has said for the past sixteen hours – about a hundred times more exposure than anyone on staff – and wondering how exactly one goes about pulling aside a night nurse and gently suggesting that they need to slow down a second, take another look, maybe it’s time for a psych consult here. Clocking my girlfriend when she can actually get to sleep to see if she’ll get through a full REM cycle even once tonight, tracking meds, icepacks, mugging the charge nurse to make sure the order for solid food actually goes through. And this book.

Books are – okay, yes I have in fact been awake for days at this point, but it’s not like I don’t also think this when I’m fully sane: books are amazing. Books are fucking magic. The right book, matched to the moment. (My brain supplies at this juncture a reference to transcendentalism, and a stupid metaphor about keys in locks).

And this was the right book. Gay romance – well, a serial killer hunt while estranged lovers, fledgling relationship smothered by the shock and trauma of sudden injury, find their way back to each other. A bit playful with mystery tropes, nice depth, pockets of quiet emotional richness. I picked this book because I thought it would be distracting. It was, but I had no idea it would make me laugh a little to myself. There you are sometimes, having what’s supposed to be a one night stand, and then boom five years down the line you’re crunched up in a hospital chair at four in the morning, listening to your girlfriend dream oxycodone dreams and sighing as you finish the exact right book.

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The Dark Tide (Adrien English Mystery, #5)The Dark Tide by Josh Lanyon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We all have our coping mechanisms. For the past week, mine entailed total submersion in the scary scary world of published gay romance. I am just starting to emerge again, and for the first time in five years, I’m not going to review everything I read. I’m not sure I remember everything I read.

I remember this series. Just a few degrees off from cozy mysteries about a bookstore owner who sometimes solves crime, with occasional steamy gay interludes. I’ve been reading on autopilot, like a compulsive eater at a buffet, and I was several gulps into these books before a few clues started seeping into my consciousness and I realized – hey, these books are . . . they’re kind of good! This guy can actually write! And he has a real ear for the stress points in a relationship! And he’s funny!

These books are – they’re silly, and the mysteries are, y’know, whatever. But they have a subtle touch and real compassion for the shitty situation of being afraid and closeted, and they understand the way stress and internalized homophobia make people crazy, and they have a core of chosen family sweetness to them, and they are hot. And they made me happy for a little while.

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