Friday, January 2, 2009

Gay Gothic: China House

Thank heavens Vincent Lardo wrote extensively. Under two pen names that I know of, he's done around ten books, and discovering either Vincent Lardo or Lawrence Sanders (the pen name) is a treat for a reader. According to the promos, under the byline of Sanders he has "more than 50 million books in print," which is amazing for any writer anywhere ... much less one who has four titles in the Alyson Books range.

Alyson did China House, The Prince and the Pretender, and The Mask of Narcissus, back in the 1980s, and they did it in an "edition" which offered the best-looking covers on gay books that were being done in that era. (GMP was around at the time, but they had a tradition of Really Terrible Covers ... "arty" kind of covers full of clashing colors and scribble-impressionism that didn't inspire you with much desire to order the book out of the catalog!)

China House was actually Lardo's debut novel in 1983, but you'd never have known it, because it's so polished. I don't think I'm wrong in guessing that VL had done loads of writing before getting to the "first novel" hurdle. The Mask of Narcissus was apparently the most popular novel from Alyson, but I'll be deadly honest with you ... China House is my own favorite. I like gothic novels, and China... is a very good one.

The first three thing I look for when I'm thinking about laying down good money and buying a book is, do I like the characters? (If you don't like the characters, you'll get irritated to death by a book that's 200pp long.) China... has fantastic characters. There are four that you meet in the first few chapters, that are crucial to the story -- Scott Evans and Mike Armstrong, who're friends and lovers, and Howard Roth, who's a kind of parapsychologist who's been called in to check out a creepy old house, and Howard's son, Ken.

The cover doesn't lie ... Scott and Mike are gorgeous. They're young, smart, sexy. And scared. The house, China House, is weird. You know that from the start. It's full of "atmosphere," and no secret is made of the fact that something very not-nice happened there about a generation ago.

As the story starts, Scott has just inherited the place, and rather than bulldoze it to the ground and start over (which I would be doing!) he gets in the psychic investigator (Howard) and determines to get to the bottom of what's "up" with the house.

The story is set on the east coast of the US, which has interested me since I saw Jaws in the theaters about 30 years ago. (The movie was set on a mythical island called Amity, but it was filmed in Martha's Vineyard, which is not far south of Cape Cod -- just up the road from the location of China House. So, if you've ever seen Jaws, the stage is set for the opening of the book. Then, take a swung over to Salem, MA, add in something like the creepy old house from The Changeling, and you're good to go.)

And this is the point where I have to start being careful not to give away plot spoilers. There's a dead identical twin ... and the house is seriously weird. And, is Scott haunted, or ill? Is Mike taking advantage of him? Why would be do that?!

Does the book have a downside? Not really. I kinda hoped it would turn out differently, but the ending is Vincent Lardo's prerogative, not mine! Still ... you could hope.

If you're looking for a book that's part thriller, part suspense, part ghost story, and with a great gay theme, you've found it. Marvelous reading for a winter's night, with the wood stove lit and a glass of brandy.

Still in print, with good deals available from Amazon. AG's rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Here's Vincent Lardo online:

Keep your weather-eye open for the old editions, which are way better than the new(er) ones:


lisaj January 2, 2009 at 6:44 PM  

You might also try reading Lynn Flewelling, who features my favorite fictional gay couple in her Nightrunner series. The first book in the series is Luck in the Shadows.

chinaprinting September 29, 2009 at 4:33 AM  

China books aren't extraordinary only at the inside, but at the outside as well. Printing industry is very developed here, since China meant its beginnings, in ancient times.