Reading Round Up: The Best in Gay Fiction for 2010

When I began writing this post I had the intention of listing ten of my favourite books in gay fiction for 2010. But it quickly became apparent that it would be impossible to restrict the list to only ten. Despite the fact that my reading time was more limited over 2010 due to the demands of real life and work and I read much less than in previous years, there were too many reading gems that I did read and could not omit from the year’s best.

Over the course of the year I made several wonderful discoveries in new-to-me authors, finally got around to reading books that had been sitting on my shelves for years, I received some great recommendations from online friends, some of my favourite authors released incredible stories and I gave myself permission to re-read some past favourites without guilt.

In the end, twenty books (novels, novellas, anthologies and short stories) made the final cut of my best in gay fiction for 2010 across several genres – contemporary, erotica, horror, historical, mystery, romance and young adult. Some were weighty stories, others lighter fare with happy endings, and several had unforgettable characters that continued to haunt me long after I was done reading their stories. But all the books listed as my best of 2010 in their own way dealt with the stuff of life and fed my mind, heart and soul.

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Reading Round Up: January-February 2010

Despite an extremely busy period at work I did manage to do a bit of reading over the months of January and February with a mix of books from some new and familiar authors and a reread of a beloved anthology.

Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction by editors Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane (Cleis Press) – Read Review

The Best Gift by Shawn Lane (Amber Quill Press/Amber Allure) – Read Review

Fatal Shadows and A Dangerous Thing: Adrien English Mysteries (Books 1 and 2) by Josh Lanyon (Loose Id) – Read Review

The Hell You Say: Adrien English Mysteries (Book 3) by Josh Lanyon (Loose Id) – Read Review

Death of a Pirate King: Adrien English Mysteries (Book 4) by Josh Lanyon (Loose Id) – Read Review

The Dark Tide: Adrien English Mysteries (Book 5) by Josh Lanyon (Loose Id) – Read Review

Between Brothers by J.M. Snyder (JMS Books) – Read Review

Firecracker by Jaye Valentine (Noble Romance Publishing) – Read Review

The Dark Tide: The Adrien English Mysteries (Book 5) by Josh Lanyon

Myth has it that Adrien’s art deco period building houses more than his bookstore and flat in the form of an unsolved mystery – the disappearance of 1950s jazz musician Jay Stevens. But myth becomes stark reality when construction workers find a skeleton beneath the floorboards during the renovation of Adrien’s bookstore, and all evidence points to the fact that these remains are those of Jay Stevens and that he was murdered some fifty years ago. To further complicate matters, someone has been trying to break into Adrien’s building pointing to the probability that the murder and attempted nightly intrusions are somehow linked.

While the LAPD does show up to investigate, their resources are stretched and focused on current, rather than half a century old cold cases. But the nightly intrusions continue and Adrien is compelled to do something about the mystery himself since the LAPD is lukewarm on the matter. Adrien hires Jake who has quit the force and struck out on his own as a private investigator. Adrien and Jake once again become sleuthing partners, but the mystery is not the only thing that needs resolving. They quickly realize that they must come to terms with the many issues left hanging in their relationship all the while trying to not get themselves killed as they investigate the murder.

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Death of A Pirate King: The Adrien English Mysteries (Book 4) by Josh Lanyon

Adrien English has finally received some recognition for his writing and his book “Murder Will Out” has been optioned by Hollywood actor Paul Kane. As a result, Adrien finds himself at a Tinseltown luncheon with all sorts of Hollywood types. Not his usual crowd, but because there are plans to turn his book into a movie he’s making a concerted effort. During the luncheon, Adrien is seated next to movie financier Porter Jones and forced to endure Porter’s self-absorbed conversation on deep-sea fishing. But when Porter Jones drops dead face down in his soup, Adrien once again finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Adrien receives another jolt when the LAPD shows up and he comes face-to-face with his former lover – Jake Riordan. Now a lieutenant, Jake arrives with an ambitious young dick named Alonzo. As they begin questioning the guests, it becomes apparent that Adrien has been singled-out as a person of interest. Adrien’s connection to Porter’s death is completely circumstantial but with forensic results pointing to murder detective Alonzo remains suspicious. With Jake’s concurrence Adrien is solicited to put his sleuthing skills to work by asking a few questions of the possible suspects. This throws Adrien and Jake together once again working to solve the crime, much to the displeasure of Adrien’s boyfriend Guy. But little does anyone know that bringing Adrien and Jake together to investigate the murder is all part of the master plan.

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The Hell You Say: The Adrien English Mysteries (Book 3) by Josh Lanyon

College student Angus Gordon has been working at Cloak and Dagger Books as an assistant for almost a year. Although his boss, Adrien English, thinks that he is a touch on the strange side, what with his interest in the occult, he is a good employee. Besides, Adrien firmly believes that he’s young and will outgrow this nonsense, eventually. When Angus starts receiving strange and progressively life-threatening phone calls Adrien comes to his rescue by providing the means for Angus to disappear for a while at least until things calm down.

The only problem is that gruesome murders start to take place, famous authors disappear and Cloak and Dagger Books becomes the mark of a satanic cult. Add to this his association with the now missing Angus and Adrien finds himself smack in the middle of trouble again. With the body count rising, the LAPD is once again investigating. But much to the chagrin and against the advice of his sometimes boyfriend LAPD homicide detective Jake Riordan, Adrien is compelled to do some nosing around of his own. This not only plays havoc with his relationship with Jake, it also places Adrien directly in harms way.

Adrien’s life has become more complicated as of late, what with the prospects of a new family, his chronic heart problems, Satanist threats, a host of possible suspects, the question of Angus’ involvement in this sordid mess and last but certainly not least, his increasingly complex relationship with Jake. Things eventually come to a head with an altogether dramatic ending to the crime mystery and possibly to Adrien and Jake’s relationship.

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Fatal Shadows and A Dangerous Thing: The Adrien English Mysteries (Books 1 and 2) by Josh Lanyon

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.

Fatal Shadows and A Dangerous Thing: The Adrien English Mysteries (Books 1 and 2) by Josh Lanyon are available at Smashwords, Amazon, All Romance eBooks and at OmniLit.

Music: In Between Days – The Cure (Staring At The Sea: The Singles, 1990)

NOTE: This review was originally published online at Rainbow Reviews.