A Dangerous Thing by Josh Lanyon

Series: Adrien English Mysteries, book 2

Genre: mystery; m/m mystery/romance

Year of publication: 2007

Rating: ♥♥♥

Summary: A few months after the end of Fatal Shadows, Adrien is maintaining a tenuous, sexually charged friendship with Detective Jake Riordan. Jake’s self-loathing homophobia seems to make a real relationship, not to mention romance, impossible. His mixed signals start to drive Adrien crazy, so when Adrien has the opportunity to flee to his grandmother’s old ranch in Sonora, he takes it.

There he finds a dead body, an acre of pot, a group of archeologists digging on his land without permission, another dead body, and a mystery dating back to the late 1800s.

Jake joins him, and as they unravel the strands of murder, myth, and local legend, their relationship deepens and develops, though neither one of them is sure what its nature or future might be.

Thoughts: A good second installment to the series. The plot was fun (if not incredibly believable), and the supporting cast big enough for a good “who-done-it” atmosphere. Lanyon’s has a talent for building memorable characters in small spaces – sometimes just a few lines. Fun, fast, and witty is how I would describe this book.

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Fatal Shadows by Josh Lanyon

Series: Adrien English Mysteries, book 1

Genre: mystery; m/m mystery/romance

Year of publication: 2007

Rating: ♥♥♥½

Content warning: descriptive sex

Summary: Adrien English owns a used bookstore in Pasadena. When his friend and employee Robert is brutally murdered in a back alley, he finds himself at the center of a police investigation, flanked by manly-man detective Riordan and his partner, detective Chan.

While the police have him pegged as suspect number one, Adrien believes there was more to Robert’s murder than random violence or an angry ex-lover — something to do with him. Realizing he is next on the killer’s to-do list, Adrien must figure out who murdered his friend and why, before it’s too late.

Thoughts: This was a re-read for me. I can’t remember why I read it or how I found it originally, but I remember it was one of my first m/m romances, and among my favorites for a long time. It’s short — probably more of a novella than a novel — and not terribly complex. But it’s witty and clever, fast paced, and in it’s short span manages to create some memorable characters.

Riordan is probably the most flawed character. Not flawed as in badly written; flawed as in he’s deeply conflicted. He’s deep in the closet, and unabashedly homophobic. On the other hand, he seems to have fallen in love with Adrien, which is sweet.

There are things I don’t like about certain characters and about the plot, but I still enjoyed re-reading this book, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a fun mystery-romance series.

Shadows Return by Lynn Flewelling

Series: Nightrunner, book 4

Genre: fantasy

Year of publication: 2008

Rating: ♥♥♥

Summary: The old queen, Idrilain, has died, and Phoria is now the ruler of Skala. Suspicious and jealous of the loyalty her sister, Klia, commands from the army and the people, she left her unofficially exiled in Aurënen at the end of the last book. Now, she sends Alec and Seregil to bring word to her that she is to return to Skala. En route, Seregil and Alec are attacked by raiders, carried off to the enemy land of Plenimar, and sold into slavery.

For most of the book, Seregil and Alec remain captives, subjected to various forms of torture and subjugation. The man who holds them is an evil alchemist who needs Alec’s blood to create a strange, inhuman creature called a rhekaro, which is purported to have amazing powers of healing. In the meanwhile, Seregil encounters a ghost from his past, and Alec’s mixed blood complicates matters.

Finally managing to get loose, Alec and Seregil’s future is uncertain, and the events they experienced in this book will certainly have a lasting impact on their characters and on the direction of the next story.

Thoughts: This book was, unfortunately, not as good as the first three in the series. Just in terms of physical appearance, it had a more YA feel — larger type with lines spaced further apart. The plot was not as detailed and well-paced as the previous stories, and the setting (most of it takes place within various cells and rooms of the alchemist’s house) was not as interesting. Furthermore, the regular supporting characters did not get to make much of an appearance.

The whole captive/bondage thing got really tiring after a while, and I began to wonder why the author had taken the story in this strange direction. In retrospect, I’m more forgiving – mostly because I feel like she wrote herself into a corner, but unlike many other authors, managed to write herself back out again pretty admirably. There are a few plot holes and questions left unanswered, (like if Phoria wasn’t behind the kidnapping, why did she send Alec and Seregil to Aurënen instead of just using one of Thero’s message sticks?), but nothing too glaring. In the end, some critical pieces of Seregil’s past are revealed, and the setup for the next book looks more promising.

The Bellingham Bloodbath by Gregory Harris

Genre: Mystery

Year of publication: 2014

Rating: ♥♥♥

Summary: Set in Victorian London, one might argue that this book is simply well-written Watson/Holmes slash fiction with minor differences; yet they are different enough, and no one’s trying to deny the similarities, so it works quite well. The main characters are Colin Pendragon, the detective, and his partner in every sense, Ethan Pruitt. The live together in a London flat with their Holmesian house-keeper, Mrs. Behmath. They’re in their thirties, good looking, and clever.

In this story, a member of the Queen’s guard and his wife are brutally murdered, and Colin and Ethan are asked to investigate. In a separate case, a woman’s beloved dog is kidnapped. Colin & Ethan must solve both cases within a very short time — three days — or risk their reputations, as well as any chance of bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Thoughts: It was a fun, light read. At times it felt a bit rushed, but it did take place in the space of only three days, so that might be a symptom of the plot. The characters were well fleshed out, although the mains could have used a bit more thorough treatment, especially regarding their relationship. I didn’t realize this book was the second in the series until after I finished it, so perhaps their relationship is given more prominence in the first story.

I also thought it was strange that the two mysteries didn’t tie together at all. Of course, that’s probably more realistic, and I can’t figure out how a dognapping would be connected to the murder in this case, anyway.

I found the writing competent and promising. It’s possible there are some minor anachronisms — I can’t remember what — but if there were, I think they’re forgivable because of the fun nature of the story. All in all, I enjoyed it. It left me looking forward the to the next installment.

Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff

Genre: Fantasy

Year of publication: 1998

Rating: ♥

This was on a list of gay/lesbian mysteries I found, and I’m not sure why. As far as I could tell, the characters are all very hetero, though it’s possible I missed something, because I didn’t read the last half of the book very closely.

Summary: Claire is a Keeper, charged with containing and sealing magical anomalies. On a dark and stormy night, Claire and her talking cat, Austin, stumble into a ramshackle B&B to take shelter. In the morning, Claire discovers that the owner has disappeared and left the inn, along with the attractive assistant/groundskeeper Dean McIssac, to her. Together, Claire and Dean discover a sleeping woman in room 6, and a hole to Hell in the basement.

While this sounds like a promising setup, the delivery falls short. I felt like I couldn’t get into the swing of the language, and I couldn’t tell if it was because I was missing something or it was just bad. I’d read some glowing reviews of this book and the others in its series, so I was surprised at how bad it was.

I think I would have liked this book a lot more when I was younger — like 12 or 13. At my current, more advanced age, I found the writing too full of mistakes, and the humor too forced. I felt the book tried very hard to be clever, and failed.

Traitor’s Moon by Lynn Flewelling

Series: Nightrunner, book 3

Genre: Fantasy

Year of publication: 1999

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Summary & thoughts: The third installment of the Nightrunner series was a bit of a slower read than the first two books. The bulk of it is taken up by political intrigue and careful mystery solving, rather than action. It takes place in Seregil’s homeland of Aurënen, and revolves around Princess Klia’s efforts to establish a trade agreement and gain Aurenfaie aid for Skala’s ongoing war with Plenimar. Meanwhile, Seregil is dealing with the emotional pain of returning home while still under the ban of exile, and considered a murderer and traitor by most of his own people.

A tiny bit is learned about Alec’s mysterious heritage, but nothing concrete. A few things happen to Alec that hint at something special about him, but nothing comes of it by the book’s end. Given Flewelling’s deliberate plot pacing, this could well be setting the stage for the next book.

As for the main attraction: Alec and Seregil are now officially lovers, but the book remains decidedly PG-13. I was disappointed that most of their relationship development seemed to have happened “off-stage” between the end of the last book and the beginning of this one. Their devotion to each other and the strength of their feelings are now taken for granted.

Supporting characters: Thero does indeed step in to fill the place of the “wizard friend,” and becomes more likeable; in fact, he is actually one of the most dynamic character in the series, in that his character changes as the story progresses. Beka remains a strong supporting role, and gains a love interest of her own during their time in Aurënen, who promises to be an interesting addition in his own right. I could see Beka having her own book — or even her own series. We also get to know Princess Klia better, and her relationship with the other characters deepens.

I strongly respect Flewelling’s ability to write a complex, high fantasy story without making it a chore to read. I also love how Alec and Seregil’s romance is almost incidental. It’s part of their characters, and it’s the reason I read the books at all, but without it the plot would be just almost as compelling, and the characters just as strong.

Magic’s Price by Mercedes Lackey

Series: Last Herald-Mage, book 3

Genre: Fantasy

Year of publication: 1990

Rating: ♥½

⊗SPOILERS⊗

I’m angry at this book, but I feel like I shouldn’t be surprised. The plot of this series was always a bit weak and juvenile, the writing always a bit too melodramatic; but things didn’t really tank until the last 1/3rd of this book. 

A powerful and mysterious enemy is killing off Herald-Mages. No one knows who he is, or why he’s doing this, or where he comes from, or how to stop him. After all the Herald-Mages are dead except for Vanyel, the “Last Herald-Mage” sets out to track down the bad guy and kill him. Along for the ride is Van’s new love, Stefan, who is supposedly the reincarnation of Van’s dead lover.

This was all fine, and I might have given the book 3 hearts if it hadn’t bombed at the end. It was the rape thing that really threw me. Vanyel is a crazy-powerful herald-mage, who could level a city with is mind, but he gets gang-raped by a bunch of bandits? WTF? I’ve read plenty of books that feature sexual violence, and although it’s definitely not something I like to read about, it doesn’t make me hate the whole book on principle. In this case, it was just so random and out of place. It didn’t do anything for the story or the characters, at least that I can see, and it just seemed like such a weird thing to make Vanyel’s character deal with at that point in the story.

Looking back over the series, I see that Vanyel is basically a perpetual victim. Even when he’s powerful, he’s a victim of “fate,” or “duty,” always being made to suffer for one reason or another. Maybe that wasn’t such a cliché for gay character back in the late eighties and early nineties when this series came out, but it’s definitely cliché now.

Maybe I’m not judging the series on the right criteria — or maybe it just hasn’t aged well. I can imagine being a young teen at the time this came out and absolutely loving it. Now, with so much more great quality stuff to choose from, I guess I’m just not impressed.