Monday, December 15, 2008

Murder and mayhem with a gay spin: Adrien English

I read this one for the first time way back when ... in the days when it was a GMP title with a purple cover with scarlet lettering -- clashing colors that didn't do anything to make you want to buy the book! (GMP had a long track record of tacky covers. They almost made a tradition of it. I'm glad I did order the book, because if I hadn't, I'd have missed a damned good one.)

Fatal Shadows is #1 in the Adrien English series of mysteries ... meaning, it's the first in the series, not the best. This one is a very good book, but others are better -- the series gathers momentum as it goes.

I think it's Josh Lanyon's style of writing that hooked me into the series and kept me there; and his characterization. He's brave enough to take risks with his characters ... for example, our hero, Adrien, is "bookish," with a gay bookstore; he's a cute (also mature, intelligent, and funny) young gay guy, but there's more to him than all this.

JL also takes risks with other characters, such as Jake, who's gorgeous, and a detective, and isn't shy about making his homophobia known. (The only other time I recall where one of the main characters in a drama is both a homophobe and a nice guy (you'd think it was mutually exclusive) is in the Midsomer Murders series in tv, where DS Gavin Troy is both a nice guy and ... has a big problem with gays.)

I should think it's very, very hard to write this kind of characterisation well enough to pull it off, esp in a novel where you don't have the natural charm of a young actor working for you. JL does it very well indeed. The character of Jake is one you definitely remember -- which is true of many of JL's characters. Jake develops along the way ... I don't want to give the plot away, so if you hate spoilers don't read the rest of his sentence! ... and becomes intimate with Adrien. Turns out, Jake is gay and his closet door is painted shut!

The plot of Fatal Shadows is a pretty straightforward murder mystery. What makes it delightful is the gayness, the great characters and witty style of JL, and ... Adrien himself. He's a really fascinating character, what with the cardiac complaint, the bookstore, the authors' group he runs, and all. Then the murders start, and an unusual character rises to several challenges -- of which Jake is a major one.

If you get to the end of Fatal Shadows and think it seems like the start of something,you're right. It's part one of a series that has run to four books to date. The whole series (so far) is: Fatal Shadows; A Dangerous Thing; The Hell you say; Death of a Pirate King.

You can now get the first two books under one cover, which is good because the series gets better as it goes ... and it's cheaper to buy two books under one cover!

The first two books were done by GMP. The third one was done by JL himself after GMP melted down and rights reverted. In the last few years, it's been an impossible battle for gay writers to find conventional publishers (have you heard Mel Keegan on the subject?!) so JL went his own way. Bravo.

Does Fatal Shadows have a downside? Only the length. It's just 150pp, which is a very quick read. When you're used to meatier, heavier mysteries, this one comes off as a bit lightweight -- but for me this is more than made up for by the characterisations (which I loved) and the street-wise wit of the style (hits the spot).

Also, the fact the book is short is made up for by the series ... there's four now, and since they're starting to come out in anthologies, you don't get hit so hard with purchase and shipping. Every little bit helps these days.

My favorite of the series so far is The Hell You Say, but I'm not going to get into that one right now, because this is more a review of Fatal till get I around to it:

Highly recommended. AG's rating: 4 out of 5 stars for this book ... 5 out of 5 for the series as a whole, because it starts well and gets better as it goes!


Josh Lanyon December 18, 2008 at 8:18 AM  

Hi there, I just wanted to thank you for the very kind review of Fatal Shadows. I happened to find your blog through Mel Keegan's -- Keegan being a favorite author of mine.

You've got a great site. I look forward to reading all your reviews.

Mel Keegan January 16, 2009 at 2:10 PM  

Hello, Josh --

Fancy meeting you here! You may notice, I stomped on AG's foot and taught her how to spell "Adrien." This blog is developing nicely.

Let me take this moment to second AG's remarks on Fatal Shadows, and on The Hell You Say -- the review of which went up about an hour ago (I just got the feed). Marvelous work on The Hell You Say...

Looking forward keenly to your future works!

All the best for 2009,