Friday, March 28, 2008

The Dark Horse by Josh Lanyon

TITLE: The Dark Horse
AUTHOR: Josh Lanyon
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 36k)
GENRE: Gay suspense erotic romance
COST: $4.99

Actor Sean Fairchild has lived the last year in fear of the stalker casting long shadows in his day-to-day life. Though evidence now points to the stalker being dead, postcards in the dead man’s handwriting still show up at Sean’s door. Does that mean he’s alive? Sean doesn’t know. His lover, Lieutenant Dan Moran, doesn’t think so. Dan’s job for the last month has been to protect Sean, and just because they’re lovers now, he doesn’t intend to stop. His protectiveness annoys Sean’s manager and ex-lover Steve, but Sean isn’t sure what to think. He just wants to get back to his real life. Somebody clearly doesn’t want that to happen…

I was the kid who still had Easter candy when school started. I didn’t want to eat that last bit of my chocolate rabbit because I knew when I did, that was it. No more. I had to wait until the next year to get another one. That’s kind of what happened with this particular story. I’ve had it for a little while, but I set it aside, saving it as long as I could. It’s the last of Josh Lanyon’s backlist that I hadn’t read. Now, I’m all caught up, and I’m all anxious about having to wait for the next one.

Lanyon utilizes a suspense device with finely honed expertise in this – the unreliable narrator. Like his other work, the story is told in 1st person, this time from Sean’s POV. As a narrator, Sean has a lot of things working to destroy his credibility. First of all, he’s an actor. Their primary purpose is to pretend. Secondly, he’s got an emotionally unstable history. He’s been in residential psychiatric care twice – once for nine months – and he’s had serious suicide attempts. Third, he’s spent the last year of his life living in growing fear of this stalker who’s after him. So trusting him to be the voice of reason in this? Extremely, extremely difficult. You're never completely sure if what he's experiencing is genuine, or a product of too much stress, or something else entirely. I felt every nuance of fear, of paranoia, of doubt that Sean did. With the creation of such a character to tumble through the story with, I would be hard-pressed to consider any as effective as Sean.

What this did for the story as a whole was make it utterly effective as suspense. Its length prevents it from introducing too many extraneous characters and still keep the characterizations realistic and cohesive, so the cast from which to pull your suspects for who is actually after Sean – if somebody actually is – is limited. Some readers will likely figure it out before the end. Personally, while I had my suspicions, I was dragged into Sean’s paranoia deeply enough to give the ending a real impact.

As always, Lanyon’s spare and compelling prose makes reading his stories effortless. There’s an added layer in this particular story as he mirrors themes from The Charioteer, the book which Sean adores and covets a lead role for in the movie adaptation, with those of Sean and his circle of friends and acquaintances. It’s done seamlessly, so much so that you don’t even know it until Sean points it out in the end. What he’s also done is make his erotic scenes actually mean something within the context of the story. Every scene is another step in the romance – which actually takes a definite back seat to the suspense aspects – so rather than titillate, they transcend the norm for most in this genre.

Is the story perfect? No, but that stems from Lanyon being a little too good at what he’s done. Sean’s constant paranoia grates slightly by two-thirds of the way through the story, and Dan’s stoicism gets a little frustrating (because Sean is frustrated with it, do you see the vicious cycle here?). That doesn’t stop me from whole-heartedly recommending it, though. You don’t have to be a Lanyon fan to fall for this. You simply have to enjoy quality writing and tight suspense.


9/10 – Deceptively simple, sucking you in without you even realizing it

Hero #1

8/10 – Battered and fragile, with a claustrophobic voice that mirrors his unbalanced state of mind

Hero #2

8/10 – Solid and dependable without seeming boring

Entertainment value

8/10 – A long, downward slope of tension that hooks you along for the breathtaking ride

World building

9/10 – Lanyon is a pro at immersing his readers into realistic, contemporary worlds.




Josh Lanyon said...

Thank you! This was a nice surprise. I just dropped by to check out your latest reviews -- I can't think why you don't get more responses. Is it okay if I mention you again on my LJ?

I'm very glad you enjoyed this one. Not everyone gets the fact that Sean is an unreliable narrator -- or that he's truly troubled and not just being annoying. *g*

Next up is DANGEROUS GROUND. Don't get your hopes up. It's just a silly little action-adventure flick. It was fun for me, though.

Book Utopia Mom said...

There's nothing wrong with silly action/adventure. It's all about moods. I just went and checked out your website; end of April on that, right? Fingers crossed April flies by as fast as March did.

Feel free to mention me; that's very flattering. I thought about emailing you to tell you the review was up, but then I started thinking I'm being all fangirly and maybe that makes me look silly. But if it means anything, the most popular search on authors in my blog is you. Hopefully that means people went out and bought all your books. :)

Josh Lanyon said...

the most popular search on authors in my blog is you. Hopefully that means people went out and bought all your books. :)

Wouldn't that be nice? *g*

Fangirl? I don't think so! It's great when readers and/or reviewers enjoy the writing and say so, but I wouldn't consider the cogent, careful reviews you do as anything remotely akin to fangirl squees. Not that I don't enjoy a heartfelt fangirl squee!

lisabea said...

I didn’t want to eat that last bit of my chocolate rabbit because I knew when I did, that was it. No more.

So true. I read Ghost of a Chance last and now...thumbs twittling.... fingers drumming....toes tapping... etc...

Great review. This story just resonated for me. I truly didn't expect the depth (dodges objects being tossed) and what a nice surprise it turned out to be.

Murphy said...

I adore Josh Lanyon's books. Your review helped to feel like I was reading it again. To me, that is a great reviewer! I will certainly be reading more of your reviews, especially while waiting until Josh finishes the next in the Adrien and Jake series! This book was very interesting to me and I am glad others will get a hint of how good it was!

Book Utopia Mom said...

Lisabea - it's nice to know I only have a month to wait for the next book, even Josh calls it a silly action/adventure. Some of my favorite authors aren't nearly as prolific. :)

Murphy - Oh, thank you! I'm kind of glad I discovered Josh when I did. I don't have nearly the wait in between books as some of his earliest readers had.:)