Friday, February 1, 2008

Partners in Crime by Josh Lanyon & Sarah Black

TITLE: Partners in Crime
AUTHOR: Josh Lanyon & Sarah Black
LENGTH: Anthology (roughly 67k)
GENRE: Gay erotic romance
COST: $6.99

Murder and love are the themes of these two novellas, from the glamour of Hollywood to the arctic wilderness of Alaska.

“Cards on the Table” by Josh Lanyon revisits familiar territory for Lanyon fans. Told in 1st person, the story starts with our hero, Tim North, an ex-reporter now writer, getting a threatening tarot card stuck to his doorway. It would seem that somebody doesn’t like the fact that he’s writing a book on the fifty-year-old murder of a Hollywood starlet. Tim goes to the one person he thinks might be able to tell him whether or not he’s overreacting – the cop in his apartment complex he slept with once who dumped Tim the next morning. A cast of fifties glamour marches across the page, while Tim and Jack the cop settle into an odd friendship again as they work to solve the cold crime.

I think it’s pretty obvious I adore Lanyon’s writing, but I have to admit, this one probably isn’t one of my favorites. For once, I didn’t connect as strongly with the narrator, in this case, Tim. While Tim is definitely likeable, I found his slightly contrary nature – deliberately opting to go against Jack’s advice out of his hurt about their break-up – veering toward the TSTL category. Tim is epileptic, a result of a major car accident eighteen months earlier, but he does a lot of things that are a danger to him unnecessarily, a fact Jack ends up having to point out to him. It’s a side effect to progressing the murder mystery along, unfortunately, and I think Lanyon has handled it with better aplomb in other stories.

All of this is countered by a colorful cast of supporting characters and a romantic interest that felt wonderfully human to me. Jack is at varying times hard as a rock or so vulnerable I wanted to give him a hug. He reacts in realistic ways – which means he doesn’t always make the nice guy choice – but he’s probably one of the nicest guys I’ve read by Lanyon so far. He’s secure in his sexuality, and any failings he might have are a result of being human, not because he happens to be gay. I love that. It’s a shame the HEA gets short-changed, then, which is really my biggest criticism of the story. Oh, it’s there, don’t worry about that. But it’s literally less than 1k, and them actually being happy? About 300 words. After everything I’d gone through with them throughout the story – and how badly I wanted them to work things out – I needed more.

“Murder at the Heartbreak Hotel” by Sarah Black is the second story in this story. Peter Moon runs a hotel in a remote part of Alaska that caters to the gay community. When the story opens, he’s in the throes of a one-night love affair with a guest – something he says he never does. Less than 24 hours later, the young man is dead, and with a hotel full of guests and a lover who has come back to claim Peter for his own, Peter wants nothing more than to find the killer.

I find myself in a quandary when it comes to this story. When it’s good, it’s very good. But when it’s bad, skimming is all I can manage.

Let’s start with the good. The author has some exquisite detail in this. The wilderness of Alaska is vivid, so vivid that I felt like I was there. Easily. She enriches with just enough real knowledge to make me as a reader believe 100% that these people are exactly who and where they say they are. I also adore Sebastian, Peter’s Athabascan lover of twenty years. I thought he was gruff and wonderful without being obnoxious. There was just enough vulnerability in him to take the edges off, and I loved that about him.

Part of the problem lies in just how much detail the author provides. There are times when she feels far more interested in the food Peter is preparing than the characters surrounding them. The characters divert into odd tangents sometimes in conversations, which normally wouldn’t be a bad thing because that's how people are, but in a story of this length, with a murder to solve and other stuff going on, there isn’t time for it. It gives me a feeling of odd disjointedness, and there were large sections I found it difficult to get into a flow.

That flow is also disrupted by unrealistic dialogue. Most of these people don’t sound a thing like anybody I know. They talk in very pretty prose, which looks good on paper but doesn’t make the character feel alive to me. The dialogue is also hindered by the fact that everybody nearly always addresses the person they’re talking to by name. People don’t do that in real life. They especially don’t do it twice in a two-sentence chunk of dialogue where the other character doesn’t speak or react.

As for the overlying murder…I’m not convinced this is the genre for the author. Her victim is put on such a high pedestal that I disliked him from the start. Our brief interaction with him has him painted practically perfect, most likely to create an atmosphere of, “Who would possibly want to kill such a wonderful man?” That’s not what it did for me. It made me roll my eyes every time somebody else started crying about a man they’d known for less than two days, because it was all just too, too much. He wasn’t real to me. He was a paragon. And I just can’t connect emotionally with that.

All that being said, the author shows tremendous potential. Her love scenes for the most part are wonderfully sweet and hot. I think if I’m going to try her again, it would be on something outside of mystery or suspense. That’s not where her strengths lie.


7/10 – Too much unnatural dialogue and over-detailing in the second story drag this score down.


6/10 – An abrupt resolution in the first and a hero in the second I’m ambivalent about mar some wonderful moments.


8/10 – Lanyon’s characters are sharply etched, while Black’s are quirky if uneven.

Entertainment value

7/10 – Though there’s potential in the second, I’ll only ever re-read the first of them.

World building

9/10 – Both authors excel at placing readers in the time and place.




Josh Lanyon said...

Hey, B.U.M. (I feel a little uncomfortable using your initials, by the way -- I think you need a middle name that starts with an "A"). Anyway, thanks very much for the review.

Very interesting thoughts on the resolution of Cards on the Table. I'll have to keep that in mind for the future. I didn't want to drag the mushy stuff out too long, but good point about keeping it in proportion with the angst level of the rest of the story -- that's actually one of my pet peeves with other writers.

Thanks for taking the time to read and review! It's always appreciated.

Josh Lanyon said...

By the way, can I recommend Sarah's BORDER ROADS to you? I think you'll be impressed -- I find it moving and beautiful.

Book Utopia Mom said...

You know, it's funny, but I never considered the initials when I set the blog up. The first time somebody used them, I felt so foolish, lol. That's one reason why I just sign off on everything as B-. I should probably think of something else. :)

I can appreciate the idea of not wanting to drag out the mushiness; there are plenty of authors out there who go too far in the other direction, too. It's a delicate balance.

I went and took a look at Sarah's book, and I've bookmarked it to buy at a later date. Thank you for the recommendation. :)