Friday, January 16, 2009

Adrien English takes on The Dark Side: Josh Lanyon's The Hell You Say

I know, I know, I've been promising for weeks to get to my favorite of the Adrien English novels ... life has been "interesting" this month, which means blogging time has been hard to find. But here I am, and here's Adrien -- back in style, in the third of the novels, The Hell You Say.

Of all the series (there are four titles to date), why is The Hell... my favorite? To begin with, it has the paranormal plot line. The story involves a connection to a satanic cult, and I love this kind of thing ... the touch of the exotic, the creep-out aspect of "black magic." This installment in the series is also extremely funny, which gives the book a kind of "three pronged assault" on the reader. There's its dark occult side, its cuttingly witty side, and also the gay theme. All of which makes the novel irresistible.

As you'd expect, there's a killer on the loose, and he seems to be after a weird young man called Angus who works for Adrien at the bookstore. Angus is being threatened via the phone, and Adrien helps him get out of harm's way -- which may or may not be a good thing, because Jake Reardon (the LA cop with whom Adrien has a sometime and stormy relationship) is also being haunted by a serial killer with satanic-cult connections. Very dead bodies being found, and they are "marked" in ritualistic ways ... and now I have to be very careful what I say about the plot, or I'll be into spoilers!

This book is full of moments that are fascinating and amusing, emotional, even disturbing. Josh Lanyon writes a sparkling first-person narrative tying everything together with the personal observations and thoughts of Adrien, who is witty and smart, with a razor-sharp tongue.

And especially in this book, Adrien is a fully-developed personality. He's "off the leash" for the first time. This is actually very true in another way, because this book marks the start of Josh Lanyon self-publishing his novels -- a road he's sharing with top-name writers from Mel Keegan to Storm Constantine. (Readers need to get past the "stigma" and find out, and then admit, that great writers can publish their own work with tip-top results. The fact is, this book, The Hell You Say, was only going to be published if JL did it himself -- and it's better than the first two which went out under the GMP label! Time to get past the "vanity publishing stigma" thing, people. The industry's changed. When great writers get stuck on a sandbank, they rescue themselves and all of us profit from their courage).

During the course of a real page-turner of a plot, Josh Lanyon has Adrien interact with a cast of characters ranging right across the spectrum. There's the gorgeous detective boyfriend Jake, who is deeply "challenged" and breaking Adrien's heart. There's Adrien's mother (!) who is deliciously batty, getting married again, and presenting Adrien with not one but three step-sisters. Eegad. And there's also the Wiccan-pagan guru who appears late in the book ... and I'm so very pleased to be able to relate that this writer knows what Wicca is all about. It's such a relief when a writer possesses the facts and not the prejudices.

If you've collected all the Adrian English books, it's great to be able to watch Josh Lanyon mature, as well as his character. From the first book through to this one, the style, the storytelling, everything "fleshes out." Also, The Hell... is 230pp, a longer book with a lot more to get your teeth into.

Does the novel have a downside? Weeeeeell, maybe, if you were waiting for Jake to get his act together and figure out that he belongs with Adrien. Plot spoiler: not in this book, guys. In fact (stop reading right now if you don't want to know!!) Jake is getting married to his rather pregnant girlfriend, leaving Adrian high and dry. Hey, there's always a fourth book...

Highly recommended! AG's rating: 5 out of 5 stars. You can read this one first if you're on a tight budget, but I think Amazon will combine shipping for you -- which is especially important, if you're in the South Pacific region. Give them a try, and see...