Adrien English is a writer of mystery novels and owner of Cloak and Dagger Books, the bookstore with the largest selection of gay and gothic mystery titles in Los Angeles. When his current employee and oldest friend, Robert Hersey, is murdered, Adrien becomes obsessed with finding his killer. His obsession is further fueled by the fact that he’s been singled out as the number one suspect by LAPD detectives Paul Chan and Jake Riordan.
In order to find the real killer and clear his name, Adrien takes on the task of investigating the murder himself. There are others with motive that could have killed Rob but the LAPD detectives won’t listen to Adrien. When Adrien starts receiving strange phone calls and macabre gifts and other gay men start dying he knows that his own life is in danger.
Adrien’s fears that he may be the killer’s next victim once again fall on the deaf ears of the LAPD detectives. In fact, detectives Chan and Riordan are more of an aggravation and obstacle than any help. But even more of an irritant to Adrien is his growing preoccupation with enigmatic detective Riordan.
Fatal Shadows is the first installment in Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English Mysteries series. In it the author spins an extremely well written web of mystery and intrigue surrounding the murder of Rob Hersey. I do love a riveting page-turning plot that keeps me guessing and on the edge and the Lanyon delivers this in spades, with an attention to detail that serves to further heighten the elements of mystery and suspense. There are several suspects with motive in this story and I must admit to having pinned the wrong one as the possible murderer until about three-quarters into the story when the clues begin to fall into place.
But more than writing a solid mystery, it is Lanyon’s ability to combine a complex “who done it” plot with characters that both jump off the page and get under your skin that makes this story the excellent reading experience that it is.
The story is told in the first person and from the perspective of our protagonist Adrien English who is intelligent and witty with a sarcastic sense of humour. Adrien’s pithy narrative utterly charms the reader. Add to this the fact that he is an ordinary fellow with some life foibles under his belt, insecurities and physical weaknesses in the form of a heart condition and this makes him an atypical hero that is altogether tangible and accessible to the reader.
Detective Riordan can be considered the quintessential anti-hero. He is enigmatic, taciturn with some unattractive personality traits and many hidden secrets, but at the same time he demonstrates courage and has the capacity for compassion, albeit often achieved through circuitous routes, rendering him somewhat of a contrary. He is a fascinating character and I cannot wait to learn more about what makes him tick.
The author also pays attention to the secondary characters in this story and they are equally well written and developed. Even murder victim Rob Hersey, who is already dead when he is introduced in the story, comes across as a well-rounded character.
In Fatal Shadows, Josh Lanyon has written a story with an intricate plot that is very much character-driven without detracting from the overall mystery. This makes the introduction to the series an extremely rich reading experience and one that provides fertile ground for the reader to begin building their relationship with the main characters.
I feel that there are really two mysteries in Fatal Shadows. The first is the murder of Robert Hersey, which is solved by story’s end, and the second is the enigma of Jake Riordan and the possibilities of his relationship with Adrien English, the latter of which will keep the reader on tenterhooks as to what happens next and scrambling to read the next book in the series.
It has been two months since Rob Hersey’s murder was solved with Adrien escaping death at the hands of a deranged killer thanks to LAPD detective Jake Riordan. Since then his relationship with Jake has taken some interesting turns. At Jake’s overtures, they are spending time together watching television or DVDs and becoming friends. But, good-bye hugs and a failed attempt at kissing is the extent of their physical relationship and it’s starting to take its toll on Adrien.
Detective James Patrick “Jake” Riordan is a bundle of walking and talking hang-ups and contradictions. On the one hand he is a self-loathing homophobe, and on the other, a homosexual cop, who has a penchant for anonymous gay S/M sex and an aversion to real intimacy with any man. As Adrien aptly puts it, Jake is buried so deep in the closet he doesn’t know where to look for himself.
Another last minute date cancellation by Jake has Adrien packed and on the road to the Sonora region and the Pine Shadow Ranch, the property willed to him by his grandmother, for a much needed getaway. He entrusts the bookstore to his occult-fascinated employee Angus and leaves Jake behind in the hopes of getting some writing done and getting Jake out of his system. But, when Adrien arrives at the ranch he finds a dead body on his land and the ranch’s overseer Ted Harvey missing. Already shaken by the discovery, Adrien becomes even more frazzled when upon the arrival of Sheriff Billingsley and Deputy Dwayne the body that was there a minute ago has disappeared into thin air. Add to this the discovery of a sizeable patch of waist-high cannabis mysteriously planted on his land and a group of archaeologist squatters digging for buried treasure and Adrien quickly realizes that his much needed vacation has turned into yet another sleuthing exercise.
While Adrien prowls around the trailer of the missing Ted Harvey for clues, he receives a hard knock to the head that has him waking up in the hospital with LAPD detective Jake Riordan by his bed. With a second dead body suddenly appearing, phantom 911 callers and marijuana plants on his land, Adrien finds himself yet again as the number one suspect. But this time he’s not alone in his quest to solve the mystery and clear his name. This time he’s got Jake on his side. While each discovery brings Adrien and Jake closer together and closer to solving the crimes, it also endangers their lives as they both find themselves on the killer’s hit list.
In A Dangerous Thing, Josh Lanyon presents us with a new crime to solve and a host of possible suspects with motive by once again combining an intricate plot with the continuing story of Adrien and Jake to write another page-turning mystery. But this time Adrien teams his amateur sleuthing skills with Jake’s professional investigative talents to find out who’s been killing and leaving dead bodies at his ranch, where is Ted Harvey and what, if any, relationship there is between all these mysteries and the group of archaeologists camping out on his property?
While I found the crime mystery in book 2 of the series to be as well written and riveting as that of the first book, and thoroughly enjoyed guessing as to the culprit, I must admit that I was much more focused on the slow revelation of the enigmatic Jake as a character, Adrien’s rich introspection and perspective in regards to himself and Jake, and by extension their evolving relationship. In fact, through his writing Lanyon makes it next to impossible to not become completely mesmerized by these two characters and their relationship dance.
The bringing together of Adrien and Jake has all the makings of an unforgettable coupling, but not necessarily in the traditional romantic sense, because the books of the Adrien English Mysteries series are not romance. Rather, their attraction as a potential couple lies in the complexities, imperfections and realism of both characters and in their ensuing relationship dynamics.
I consider myself very much a character-driven reader and Adrien and Jake are precisely the types of characters that I enjoy sinking my teeth into. I very much appreciated the author’s measured peeling back of Jake’s layers delving into his complexities and slowly revealing his feelings for Adrien as he begins to drop his guard in the relative safety of the ranch’s isolation and in response to Adrien’s subtle and sometimes not so subtle prompting. For his part, Adrien’s rich personal introspection and emotionally intelligent insights into all matters, especially his relationship with Jake, continue to endear him to the reader as a refreshingly unlikely but altogether accessible hero. I thoroughly enjoyed their well nuanced dialogue and the verbal sparing between these two characters and felt that it was highly effective in portraying the mounting sexual and emotional tension between them. All these elements converge to increase the anticipation of their first sexual encounter, which I found to be highly erotic, but at the same time surprisingly poignant because given their individual circumstances and issues, it leaves both exposed and vulnerable, albeit in different ways, as the nature and parameters of their relationship change.
After reading A Dangerous Thing, I can say with certainty that I have become completely invested in Adrien and Jake and the possibilities of their relationship, whatever its evolving nature.
NOTE: This review was originally published online at Rainbow Reviews.