Review: The Hadrian Enigma by George Gardiner

An emperor’s search for love destroys the very person he most adores. Crime/mystery/romance historical fiction based upon real events and characters of pagan Rome. Set two centuries before Rome’s recognition of Christians, it is an era of intrigue, torrid relations, raging ambition, wild sensuality, & unconventional love. Caesar Hadrian’s ‘favorite’ is found one dawn beneath the waters of the River Nile. Is it a prank gone wrong, a suicide, murder, or something far more sinister? Barrister & historian, Suetonius Tranquillus, & his courtesan companion Surisca are allowed two days to uncover the truth on pain of penalty. They discover more than they bargained for ..

Review by Aleksandr Voinov

I got this book a couple months ago and started right away – then my own writing went insane and all reading fell to the wayside. I re-started about a week ago and read The Hadrian Enigma” straight through, which is always a good sign.

So, yes, I liked this book. The backcover blurb is a bit ambiguous – the investigation into the death of Antinous, Emperor Hadrian’s “favourite” (read: lover) is not conducted by Emperor Hadrian himself, but rather by three men he orders to investigate. The investigating team is led by Suetonius, historian, scandal-monger and author of “Lives of the Caesars”. That, alone, is a genius idea. When I read that part – the whole set-up of Hadrian ordering Suetonius to investigate, I was immediately smitten. The novel begins with a lot of verve, told in first person, and I really enjoyed Suetonius’ voice there.

The year is 130 after Christ. Emperor Hadrian, grief-struck, orders Suetonius and a couple others to investigate the death of Antinous, who apparently drowned in the Nile. They have three days to accomplish that, and the investigation centers on the travelling court in Egypt, where several people have a stake in Antinous’ life and death. There are rivals, old enemies, politicians and courtiers, and during the course of this enormous 476 pager, the author draws a lively picture of life in the second century, court politics and the Roman and Greek world. From what I remember of my history courses, the research is spot-on, nothing struck me as wrong in the way the historical setting is presented, so full marks on the history.

When it comes to the gay elements, the book spends a fair amount of time explaining the Greek erastes/eromenos model versus the Roman “anything goes, as long as love isn’t involved and only slaves, youths and women are penetrated”. Erotic relationships are pursued with no regards to gender, race or culture, and we see people further their own agendas with sex, sex traded as a commodity, and sex as expression of love. Again, full marks on how the author treats gay history and gay culture – he gets the sexual morals of the time right, and spends a lot of time discussing sexual morals and codes of conduct of the time, and also shows characters be shocked that Hadrian and Antinous seem to have breached the Roman concept of what is proper in a relationship between an older man and a younger man – their relationship was far more reciprocal than was politic at the time. In fact, the accusation of Emperors taking the passive/female role is one of the most damning things a Roman historian could say about an emperor, just look at the character assassination of Heliogabalus/Elagabal.

This leads directly to the criticism of the novel. It’s the nature of the beast that reviews spend more time on the flaws or perceived faults of a book than what the reviewer liked, which is really unfortunate. It’s also unfortunate that I have to rate the book with the same ratings system that covers everything from fluffy little romances to all-out porn. This book is an epic undertaking of three or four years of research, and it shows. Rating that along the same lines as a formulaic historical romance or porn in historical customs is awkward.

It’s important to say what the book is not. It is not a historical romance, or even a historical m/m romance, despite what it says on the back cover. In my book, it’s a historical crime story, which happens to explore a gay relationship, in a fairly bisexual setting. The book does spend time exploring how Antinous and Hadrian “happened”, the courting, the politics, Antinous’ enemies, and discusses the sexual morals at length. There are two sex scenes, but the focus is not, like m/m romances require, on the relationship as it develops.

For once, Antinous is dead when people talk about him, and is only resurrected in the lengthy accounts of how things happened. He is talked about and the center of the novel, but not the protagonist of the novel. His lover, emperor Hadrian, remains mostly closed off. This is a relationship as witnessed, not as lived.

The author tries to get closer to the characters and lets those witnesses look into Hadrian’s and Antinous’ heads, but the way it’s told, all this has to be guesswork, because the characters themselves are not involved. Another thing – m/m romances as currently marketed and sold require a “happy ever after” or a “happy for now”. Well. Hadrian’s and Antinous’ relationship ended a few weeks before the young man’s death, with is what is being investigated. Death is a no-go area in m/m romances as they are currently sold. Death is a no-go area for the romance genre, period (as I learnt the hard way when I tried to sell “Test of Faith”).

For me, personally, it was too much history (I know, that’s a weird thing to say). There were many instances when the characters were telling the readers things about their world and culture (somebody explains in the book that the Roman world is “phallocentric” – that’s not something I expect a Roman of the 2nd sectury after Christ to say), and exploring at length and in detail themes that they would find quite natural. We never question our natural assumptions, so this felt awkward. Having Greeks talk about the erastes/eromenos model with such academic detail felt like they were doing so for the reader’s benefit, as mouthpieces of all that enormous bulk of research. This is a key challenge of writing historical characters – the research shouldn’t draw attention to itself. In this book, it sadly did.

In addition, the point of view was all over the place. We start with first person, go into third person, and then we have the lengthy interviews with the witnesses before we go back to first person to wrap things up. The characters tell things they cannot know (such as what Antinous and Hadrian were thinking/feeling). Even statements such as “he told me over a cup of wine” fail to convince. Here, the book falls short on suspending my disbelief. I know the author really wants to tell me about Antinous’/Hadrian’s emotions, but he does so in a way that breaks my fictional dream. I can’t believe a character who is clearly not (just) a character but a tool to tell things that he or she cannot possibly know. One chapter that deals with the Dacians doesn’t have a narrator at all – who’s telling this? We don’t know.

The style can be officious at times, which works for a court setting. I’d have liked it to be toned down a little. We know, for example, that Augustus, despite his drive towards “pure classical Latin” cursed like a sailor in private and spoke a gibberish of Latin and Greek. I’d expect a writer like Suetonius to write with more of a poisoned pen at times – whereas passages dealing with Antinous are more hagiographic than I’d expect from that barbed historian. He was the Perez Hilton of his time, he could easily have been more sarcastic and generally funnier. Roman wit is acerbic and devastating, and the book could have used a bit more of that – it would also be very in character for the narrator.

Overall, the book could use a good cutting – all the self-conscious history, a few characters (we really only need one Special Investigator, and possibly the helper, Surisca) and the repetitions on themes. If it has been explained what the erastes/eromenos relationship is, we don’t need that repeated several times in dialogue. People reading this kind of book can be trusted to remember such things.

In terms of plot, the book works great as a crime novel, far less so as a romance, and I could see a mainstream appeal for the book. Historical crime is big as a genre – much bigger than m/m romance.

So what we see here is a very ambitious debut which has a few, but pervasive craft issues, but it’s strong enough on other counts to still be very readable. There is an undeniable energy in the prose and writing, a fearlessness to tackle that kind of project, imagination, boldness and heartblood. If the issues mentioned above would get fixed, the POV settled, the self-conscious research sorted, the cast streamlined a bit, this would be a great book, a definitive five-star read for me and more likely than not, had potential to make it in the mainstream.

Buy:  Lulu Amazon UK Amazon USA

http://www.mmromancenovels.blogspot.com/

Author Interview: JoAnne Soper-Cook

Aleksandr Voinov interviews JoAnne Soper-Cook, author of Because You Despise Me, Heartache Café and sixother novels.

Speak Its Name: Hi JoAnne, thanks for agreeing to the interview, I’m glad to have you here. Can you give short introduction about yourself?

JoAnne Soper-Cook: I was born at a very early age (*groan*) in a small fishing village in Newfoundland, in the middle of the worst blizzard (I’m told) that they’d had in decades. I think that probably was an indication of things to come. I published my first short story in 1975, when I was 8 years old. It was called “The Magic Elf” and was, if I remember correctly, a work of surpassing literary brilliance…actually, it made me famous on the playground for exactly 2.5 days, and then the other kids went back to beating the snot out of me as usual.

I edited my high school paper, and wrote syndicated op-ed pieces for the now-defunct Robinson-Blackmore newspaper chain, which published all the local papers for the whole island. My first novel, WAKING THE MESSIAH, was published by Breakwater Books in 1999, and was followed by an entirely forgettable fictional biography of Napoleon. I’ve had various ups and downs since then, but I’ve been lucky in that I seem to be able to find an audience for my work these days, which hasn’t always been the case.

SIN: You’re one of those writers who are active both in the m/m & gay genre as well as the literary genre, having published 4 literary novels before you joined the m/m fray. How did that happen?

JSC: I had recently gone through a very long, dry spell when I hadn’t been able to get anything published. I suffer from major depression and so I was convinced this was the death knell. I’d always written slash fanfiction – usually in the Due South and CSI fandoms – and so, when my friend Jennifer LeClaire suggested I try a novel, I decided to take her up on it. She was wonderfully supportive, reading what I wrote as I went along, offering suggestions and improvements. I’d have never written an m/m romance if it hadn’t been for her.

Then I met a wonderful, generous and incredibly talented author who writes under the name Erastes. When she found out I’d just completely my very first m/m romance – the unlikely love story of two Prohibition era gangsters, entitled BUT NOT FOR ME – she encouraged me to submit it for publication. She stood by me throughout the entire process – hand-holding me, encouraging me, propping me up, and giving me pep talks. I owe my m/m publications to her, as well as to some of the wonderful people I met on LiveJournal – such as Alex Beecroft, Chris Smith. I’m always encouraged and inspired by the level of support and good fellowship I’ve found among the m/m writing community.

SIN: Is the writing, that is, the process/preparation between literary and m/m any different?

JSC: Not for me. I mean, everybody’s process is different. I won’t go into it, because nothing is more boring than listening to someone talk about their writing process, but for me, it’s still writing. I still do the same research, and where I write mostly historicals, there’s usually a lot of research to be done. But I don’t mind that. I used to be an academic, so research is par for the course and I’ve always enjoyed it.

SIN: When it comes to historicals, which periods interest you the most? Why?

JSC: I have always been fascinated by the Napoleonic period – Napoleon I – and mostly that’s because of the man himself. I think he had to have been an incredibly dynamic personality, the sort of person you either hate on sight or fall madly and passionately in love with, forever.

World War Two is another time period I enjoy. My grandfather served in the artillery in the British army, and so there was that military tradition in my family. I was exposed to a lot of what they call “men’s adventure” novels when I was still a teenager, written by people like Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean – these gritty, come-hell-or-high-water sort of novels where you have a group of heroes who are pitted against incredible odds and anything that can go wrong, will. In fact, that was the first type of novel I ever attempted. I wrote it on an Underwood typewriter that my parents had given me for Christmas when I was 13. It was about 40 pages long – a real epic piece, you know – and had to do with Major Kesselring and the Brenner Pass. I had all these maps spread out – I absolutely have a map fetish, love maps and atlases and of course Google Earth – and I plotted out where they were going, the terrain and such. That one got passed around my classroom during maths lectures, I can tell you. :)

The late Victorian period is another favourite, and this goes back to my love of the original Sherlock Holmes stories by A.C. Doyle. The period around the Whitechapel murders up to the early Edwardian era interests me quite a lot. I think the Victorians – the fin-de-siecle Victorians, I mean – were quite advanced in terms of the technology they had and the sorts of goods and services they had access to. I write crime novels set in this period – the Inspector Philemon Raft series is set to debut this June, with WILLING FLESH – and so the forensics of it interests me. I mean, they certainly didn’t have what you see on CSI. Fingerprinting was in its infancy – they were still measuring people’s limbs to determine their potential for criminal behaviour. Phrenology was considered a science, for God’s sake!

I’ve recently developed an interest in the Great Depression era in the United States – before and after Prohibition – and the mythos of the ‘beer baron’, these bootleggers who were really just murderous hoodlums with a lot of money behind them. John Dillinger is a figure of great fascination to me: he was something of a folk hero to many people. He was seen as a Robin Hood type. Right now I am working on something which has a Dillinger-esque character, a man who sees himself as a hero because he takes what he wants – really, he’s a very damaged person who desperately needs the kind of unconditional love we all dream about. He’s being chased by someone who is just as clever as he is. I have an idea where that one is going and I know the ending already, and it’s unconventional and happy. It’s a happy ending.

SIN: You get to host a dinner party with 3 historical people of your choice. Who’s at the table, and why?

JSC: Napoleon Bonaparte, John Dillinger, Vlad Dracul, a.k.a. Vlad Tepes. They all fascinate me in different ways. I think it’s the power. I do appreciate and I think at some level understand the allure of power – the power to enact enormous changes. I don’t know if I’d want that sort of power myself, but I am always interested in what makes such people tick. I mean, there is such a mythology that’s grown up around Napoleon, but I think personally he was rather different than people have come to expect. Most of the biographies you read concentrate on his considerable skill as a military leader and, later, an administrator; one wonders what he was like as an individual. I wonder what sorts of things he laughed at, what he might have found funny. He did apparently have quite a puckish sense of humour that extended to practical jokes on many occasions, and he wasn’t above laughing at himself. I think power changed him, but I also think that, once he had lost that power forever, he regained something of the person he truly was. You can see this in his interactions with young Betsy Balcombe during his final exile on St. Helena. He became a playmate for her and she really, truly adored him.

Dillinger, as I’ve said, because of this Robin Hood perception of him. He is someone, like Napoleon, who excites enormous debate. He endured horrible abuse as a child and I wonder how far that might have contributed to who he eventually became.

Vlad Dracul – I’m writing a fictionalised ‘treatment’ (I don’t know any other word for it, really) of Dracula that’s set in a steampunk universe – for many of the same reasons. Who was he, really? Much of the “vampire” mythos ascribed to him can be attributed to Bram Stoker, but I’m interested in whether such ideas existed about Vlad before Stoker got hold of them, and to what extent. The novel I’m writing has him cast as a sin eater – you know, the person who was the community scapegoat, who came and performed a certain ritual over the corpse that was believed to take the dead person’s sins away. There was an enormous amount of superstition and fear around such a person – who would have been a pariah in the community. Doubtless a critical theorist would argue that Vlad Dracul’s Othering at the hands of scholars is a fait accompli, but that’s not what I’m trying to do. I suppose in all these cases I am looking for a reason why the person became who they were.

SIN: You can ask a historical person of your choice three questions that they have to answer truthfully. Who would that be, and what are the questions?

JSC: Napoleon, probably. Would you have done anything differently, and if so, what? What is your biggest regret? Did you have sex with Tsar Alexander I? (LOL)

SIN: (I bet they did!) What are you currently working on?

JSC: Right now I am trying to get the sequel to HEARTACHE CAFE finished, a novel called VALLEY OF THE DEAD. We – my publishers and I – hope to continue the story of Jack Stoyles and his cafe. HEARTACHE CAFE introduced him, and now we’re asking readers if they’d like to accompany him on some new adventures. In this book he takes an unexpected journey to Egypt, but I won’t give it away. Jack is a hard-boiled kind of guy. He’s sort of a cross between Casablanca’s Rick Blaine and Sam Spade. He’s always getting beaten up! But he keeps coming back for more – and there are always sexy men waiting in the wings.

In addition to VALLEY OF THE DEAD, I’m writing a thing called FAMOUS LAST WORDS which is a cops-and-robbers caper set in the 1930s. I like to call it “one fucking thing after another.” :) I’m also at work on THE LOVELY BEAST, a steampunk reimagining of the Dracula legend, with some original twists. Victor Frankenstein is one of the Brides.

SIN: Writers very often struggle getting the work/life balance right – how do you manage?

JSC: I was laid off from my regular day job in June of last year, so that helps enormously. Ultimately I will have to get another job, unless I win the lottery or something. I’m a great believer in ‘write while you can’ and so I’ve become expert at grabbing little bits of time throughout the day. I am always on the lookout for those little windows of time. I have no children, and my husband is enormously supportive, a better cook than I am, and he enjoys doing housework. You could say I’ve got it made. :)

SIN: Which are authors you admire? What’s the book you would have wanted to write which was written by somebody else?

JSC: Margaret Atwood was the reason I started writing. Her work just leaves me speechless with admiration. I would have loved to have written “Oryx and Crake” or “The Handmaid’s Tale.” There’s a lot of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stuff that just moves me to tears. The last line of “The Great Gatsby” is, I think, one of the most perfect lines ever written. Erastes’ “Tributary” just blew me away, utterly. Her work manages to be solid and yet incredibly beautiful at the same time, which is so very, very difficult to accomplish. Kazuo Ishiguro’s” Never Let Me Go” is definitely a book I would have loved to have written.

SIN: Unfair question, I know, but which is the favourite book of yours and why?

JSC: This changes from time to time but right now it’s a currently unpublished book called Em. It was inspired by Peter Lorre’s character Hans Beckert in the 1931 Fritz Lang film M. My character is a chemically castrated child rapist/murderer and it’s told from his point of view, but this is no Dexter. I’m not asking readers to identify with him. The novel is about the ways in which we treat our children, and how this affects human society. A recurring line, spoken by Hans (a survivor of the most heinous childhood abuse you can possibly imagine) is “This is how we make monsters.” It’s set in my home town and the city of St. John’s is a huge presence in the book – always looming above people, always very forbidding, very urban and gritty, full of dark spaces, which is something you get in German Expressionist film a lot. I’m very proud of this book.

SIN: How do you get characters to “talk” to you?

JSC: My problem isn’t in getting them to talk; it’s in getting them to shut up! At any given time I’ve got several dialogues going on in my head, not to mention the new characters who come along tapping on my subconscious going “Hullo? I have a wonderful story you need to tell.” It’s rather like that opening scene in Karin Fossum’s novel “Broken”, where all the characters are stood up in her driveway, waiting for her to tell their stories. I write the way Method actors act, by becoming the character – so if I’m writing an Inspector Raft novel, then I am Philemon Raft. I mean, I go about as if I were him; I see the world through his eyes. This morning I went for a walk as Jack Stoyles from the HEARTACHE CAFE series. He notices things I don’t. So it’s very Method for me. It’s Method writing. :)

SIN: How long does the planning take compared to the overall writing?

JSC: I don’t traditionally plan novels, with the exception of the crime novels, sometimes – if it’s a particularly thorny murder or series of murders with overlapping elements, then I make enormous charts that get posted on the walls of my study. I use sheets of white bristol board (poster board) for this, but recently I found out you can get wallboard that’s actually that whiteboard stuff? What is it? Greaseboard? You know, you write on it with erasable markers and you can wipe it off and start over – so I haven’t stopped pestering my husband to redo my study with that on the walls. I usually write up the names of the main protagonists, the murder victim(s), the most likely suspects, along with forensic evidence found at the scene, etc. I ‘process’ the murder scene mentally and then write out what was there, and I do my own forensic experiments. For my literary novels I don’t plan them. I prefer to let them unfold organically. I’m a great believer in what Alice Munro said, that when we begin to write “things rise up and attach themselves.”

SIN: Do you research as you go along?

JSC: I research as I go, yes. The only reason for this is my absent mindedness. If I don’t research as I go I will forget about it. My editor usually goes over my research very carefully and will give me notes on any extra research that needs to be done. I have a really, really amazing editor, Judi David, who catches everything I miss.

SIN: Best and worst piece of writing advice you ever got?

JSC: Best piece of advice I ever got: perseverance rewards talent. This was said to me by a literary agent who ultimately declined to represent me, but that piece of advice has stood me in such good stead. I really appreciated that he said that.

The worst probably came from a professor when I was in my second year at uni. She told me that I couldn’t write worth a damn and would never be able to write. She refused to give me an “A” in her course no matter how hard I worked. She said that unless I wrote the way she herself wrote, it wouldn’t be any good.

SIN: Thank you for the interview and good luck with your current projects!

JoAnne’s website

Aleksandr Voinov interviews J S Cook, author of Heartache Café, reviewed at Speak Its Name (LINK)

Hi Joanne, thanks for agreeing to the interview, I’m glad to have you here. Can you give short introduction about yourself?

I was born at a very early age (*groan*) in a small fishing village in Newfoundland, in the middle of the worst blizzard (I’m told) that they’d had in decades. I think that probably was an indication of things to come. I published my first short story in 1975, when I was 8 years old. It was called “The Magic Elf” and was, if I remember correctly, a work of surpassing literary brilliance…actually, it made me famous on the playground for exactly 2.5 days, and then the other kids went back to beating the snot out of me as usual.

I edited my high school paper, and wrote syndicated op-ed pieces for the now-defunct Robinson-Blackmore newspaper chain, which published all the local papers for the whole island. My first novel, WAKING THE MESSIAH, was published by Breakwater Books in 1999, and was followed by an entirely forgettable fictional biography of Napoleon. I’ve had various ups and downs since then, but I’ve been lucky in that I seem to be able to find an audience for my work these days, which hasn’t always been the case.

You’re one of those writers who are active both in the m/m & gay genre as well as the literary genre, having published 4 literary novels before you joined the m/m fray. How did that happen?

I had recently gone through a very long, dry spell when I hadn’t been able to get anything published.  I suffer from major depression and so I was convinced this was the death knell. I’d always written slash fanfiction – usually in the Due South and CSI fandoms – and so, when my friend Jennifer LeClaire suggested I try a novel, I decided to take her up on it.  She was wonderfully supportive, reading what I wrote as I went along, offering suggestions and improvements.  I’d have never written an m/m romance if it hadn’t been for her.

Then I met a wonderful, generous and incredibly talented author who writes under the name Erastes.  When she found out I’d just completely my very first m/m romance – the unlikely love story of two Prohibition era gangsters, entitled BUT NOT FOR ME – she encouraged me to submit it for publication.  She stood by me throughout the entire process – hand-holding me, encouraging me, propping me up, and giving me pep talks.  I owe my m/m publications to her, as well as to some of the wonderful people I met on LiveJournal – such as Alex Beecroft, Chris Smith.  I’m always encouraged and inspired by the level of support and good fellowship I’ve found among the m/m writing community.

Is the writing, that is,  the process/preparation between literary and m/m any different?

Not for me. I mean, everybody’s process is different.  I won’t go into it, because nothing is more boring than listening to someone talk about their writing process, but for me, it’s still writing. I still do the same research, and where I write mostly historicals, there’s usually a lot of research to be done.  But I don’t mind that. I used to be an academic, so research is par for the course and I’ve always enjoyed it.

When it comes to historicals, which periods interest you the most? Why?

I have always been fascinated by the Napoleonic period – Napoleon I – and mostly that’s because of the man himself.  I think he had to have been an incredibly dynamic personality, the sort of person you either hate on sight or fall madly and passionately in love with, forever.

World War Two is another time period I enjoy.  My grandfather served in the artillery in the British army, and so there was that military tradition in my family. I was exposed to a lot of what they call “men’s adventure” novels when I was still a teenager, written by people like Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean – these gritty, come-hell-or-high-water sort of novels where you have a group of heroes who are pitted against incredible odds and anything that can go wrong, will.  In fact, that was the first type of novel I ever attempted.  I wrote it on an Underwood typewriter that my parents had given me for Christmas when I was 13.  It was about 40 pages long – a real epic piece, you know – and had to do with Major Kesselring and the Brenner Pass.  I had all these maps spread out – I absolutely have a map fetish, love maps and atlases and of course Google Earth – and I plotted out where they were going, the terrain and such.  That one got passed around my classroom during maths lectures, I can tell you. :)

The late Victorian period is another favourite, and this goes back to my love of the original Sherlock Holmes stories by A.C. Doyle.  The period around the Whitechapel murders up to the early Edwardian era interests me quite a lot.  I think the Victorians – the fin-de-siecle Victorians, I mean – were quite advanced in terms of the technology they had and the sorts of goods and services they had access to. I write crime novels set in this period – the Inspector Philemon Raft series is set to debut this June, with WILLING FLESH – and so the forensics of it interests me. I mean, they certainly didn’t have what you see on CSI. Fingerprinting was in its infancy – they were still measuring people’s limbs to determine their potential for criminal behaviour.  Phrenology was considered a science, for God’s sake!

I’ve recently developed an interest in the Great Depression era in the United States – before and after Prohibition – and the mythos of the ‘beer baron’, these bootleggers who were really just murderous hoodlums with a lot of money behind them.  John Dillinger is a figure of great fascination to me: he was something of a folk hero to many people. He was seen as a Robin Hood type.  Right now I am working on something which has a Dillinger-esque character, a man who sees himself as a hero because he takes what he wants – really, he’s a very damaged person who desperately needs the kind of unconditional love we all dream about.  He’s being chased by someone who is just as clever as he is. I have an idea where that one is going and I know the ending already, and it’s unconventional and happy. It’s a happy ending.

You get to host a dinner party with 3 historical people of your choice. Who’s at the table, and why?

Napoleon Bonaparte, John Dillinger, Vlad Dracul, a.k.a. Vlad Tepes. They all fascinate me in different ways. I think it’s the power. I do appreciate and I think at some level understand the allure of power – the power to enact enormous changes.  I don’t know if I’d want that sort of power myself, but I am always interested in what makes such people tick.  I mean, there is such a mythology that’s grown up around Napoleon, but I think personally he was rather different than people have come to expect. Most of the biographies you read concentrate on his considerable skill as a military leader and, later, an administrator; one wonders what he was like as an individual.  I wonder what sorts of things he laughed at, what he might have found funny.  He did apparently have quite a puckish sense of humour that extended to practical jokes on many occasions, and he wasn’t above laughing at himself. I think power changed him, but I also think that, once he had lost that power forever, he regained something of the person he truly was.  You can see this in his interactions with young Betsy Balcombe during his final exile on St. Helena.  He became a playmate for her and she really, truly adored him.

Dillinger, as I’ve said, because of this Robin Hood perception of him.  He is someone, like Napoleon, who excites enormous debate.  He endured horrible abuse as a child and I wonder how far that might have contributed to who he eventually became.

Vlad Dracul – I’m writing a fictionalised ‘treatment’ (I don’t know any other word for it, really) of Dracula that’s set in a steampunk universe – for many of the same reasons.  Who was he, really? Much of the “vampire” mythos ascribed to him can be attributed to Bram Stoker, but I’m interested in whether such ideas existed about Vlad before Stoker got hold of them, and to what extent.  The novel I’m writing has him cast as a sin eater – you know, the person who was the community scapegoat, who came and performed a certain ritual over the corpse that was believed to take the dead person’s sins away. There was an enormous amount of superstition and fear around such a person – who would have been a pariah in the community. Doubtless a critical theorist would argue that Vlad Dracul’s Othering at the hands of scholars is a fait accompli, but that’s not what I’m trying to do.  I suppose in all these cases I am looking for a reason why the person became who they were.

You can ask a historical person of your choice three questions that they have to answer truthfully. Who would that be, and what are the questions?

Napoleon, probably. Would you have done anything differently, and if so, what? What is your biggest regret? Did you have sex with Tsar Alexander I? (LOL)

(I bet they did!) What are you currently working on?

Right now I am trying to get the sequel to HEARTACHE CAFE finished, a novel called VALLEY OF THE DEAD.  We – my publishers and I – hope to continue the story of Jack Stoyles and his cafe.  HEARTACHE CAFE introduced him, and now we’re asking readers if they’d like to accompany him on some new adventures.  In this book he takes an unexpected journey to Egypt, but I won’t give it away.  Jack is a hard-boiled kind of guy.  He’s sort of a cross between Casablanca‘s Rick Blaine and Sam Spade.  He’s always getting beaten up! But he keeps coming back for more – and there are always sexy men waiting in the wings.

In addition to VALLEY OF THE DEAD, I’m writing a thing called FAMOUS LAST WORDS which is a cops-and-robbers caper set in the 1930s.  I like to call it “one fucking thing after another.” :) I’m also at work on THE LOVELY BEAST, a steampunk reimagining of the Dracula legend, with some original twists. Victor Frankenstein is one of the Brides.

Writers very often struggle getting the work/life balance right – how do you manage?

I was laid off from my regular day job in June of last year, so that helps enormously. Ultimately I will have to get another job, unless I win the lottery or something.  I’m a great believer in ‘write while you can’ and so I’ve become expert at grabbing little bits of time throughout the day.  I am always on the lookout for those little windows of time.  I have no children, and my husband is enormously supportive, a better cook than I am, and he enjoys doing housework.  You could say I’ve got it made. :)

Which are authors you admire? What’s the book you would have wanted to write which was written by somebody else?

Margaret Atwood was the reason I started writing. Her work just leaves me speechless with admiration. I would have loved to have written Oryx and Crake or The Handmaid’s Tale.  There’s a lot of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stuff that just moves me to tears.  The last line of The Great Gatsby is, I think, one of the most perfect lines ever written.  Erastes’ Tributary just blew me away, utterly. Her work manages to be solid and yet incredibly beautiful at the same time, which is so very, very difficult to accomplish.  Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is definitely a book I would have loved to have written.

Unfair question, I know, but which is the favourite book of yours and why?

This changes from time to time but right now it’s a currently unpublished book called Em.  It was inspired by Peter Lorre’s character Hans Beckert in the 1931 Fritz Lang film M.  My character is a chemically castrated child rapist/murderer and it’s told from his point of view, but this is no Dexter.  I’m not asking readers to identify with him.  The novel is about the ways in which we treat our children, and how this affects human society.  A recurring line, spoken by Hans (a survivor of the most heinous childhood abuse you can possibly imagine) is “This is how we make monsters.”  It’s set in my home town and the city of St. John’s is a huge presence in the book – always looming above people, always very forbidding, very urban and gritty, full of dark spaces, which is something you get in German Expressionist film a lot.  I’m very proud of this book.

How do you get characters to “talk” to you?

My problem isn’t in getting them to talk; it’s in getting them to shut up! At any given time I’ve got several dialogues going on in my head, not to mention the new characters who come along tapping on my subconscious going “Hullo? I have a wonderful story you need to tell.”  It’s rather like that opening scene in Karin Fossum’s novel Broken, where all the characters are stood up in her driveway, waiting for her to tell their stories. I write the way Method actors act, by becoming the character – so if I’m writing an Inspector Raft novel, then I am Philemon Raft.  I mean, I go about as if I were him; I see the world through his eyes.  This morning I went for a walk as Jack Stoyles from the HEARTACHE CAFE series.  He notices things I don’t. So it’s very Method for me. It’s Method writing. :)

How long does the planning take compared to the overall writing?

I don’t traditionally plan novels, with the exception of the crime novels, sometimes – if it’s a particularly thorny murder or series of murders with overlapping elements, then I make enormous charts that get posted on the walls of my study.  I use sheets of white bristol board (poster board) for this, but recently I found out you can get wallboard that’s actually that whiteboard stuff? What is it? Greaseboard? You know, you write on it with erasable markers and you can wipe it off and start over – so I haven’t stopped pestering my husband to redo my study with that on the walls. I usually write up the names of the main protagonists, the murder victim(s), the most likely suspects, along with forensic evidence found at the scene, etc.  I ‘process’ the murder scene mentally and then write out what was there, and I do my own forensic experiments. For my literary novels I don’t plan them.  I prefer to let them unfold organically.  I’m a great believer in what Alice Munro said, that when we begin to write “things rise up and attach themselves.”

Do you research as you go along?

I research as I go, yes. The only reason for this is my absent mindedness. If I don’t research as I go I will forget about it. My editor usually goes over my research very carefully and will give me notes on any extra research that needs to be done. I have a really, really amazing editor, Judi David, who catches everything I miss.

Best and worst piece of writing advice you ever got?

Best piece of advice I ever got: perseverance rewards talent. This was said to me by a literary agent who ultimately declined to represent me, but that piece of advice has stood me in such good stead. I really appreciated that he said that.

The worst probably came from a professor when I was in my second year at uni.  She told me that I couldn’t write worth a damn and would never be able to write.  She refused to give me an “A” in her course no matter how hard I worked. She said that unless I wrote the way she herself wrote, it wouldn’t be any good.

Thank you for the interview and good luck with your current projects!

Review: The Gentleman and the Rogue by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

When war veteran Sir Alan Watleigh goes searching for sex, he never imagines the street rat he brings home for one last bit of pleasure in his darkest hour will be the man who hauls him back from the edge of the grave.

A night of meaningless sex turns into an offer of permanent employment. As Sir Alan Watleigh’s valet, Jem offers much more than polished boots and starched cravats. He makes Sir Alan Watleigh smile and warms his bed. Just as the men are adjusting to their new living arrangement, news about a former soldier under his command sends Sir Alan Watleigh and Jem on the road to save a child in danger.

The journey brings them closer together as they travel from lust toward love. But is Sir Alan Watleigh’s love strong enough to risk society discovering the truth about him?

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

This is the second historical I have read from these authors (the first was Seducing Stephen) and I have to say, on the basis of these two books, Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon are quickly earning a space on my “auto-buy authors” list. Brava, ladies!

Similar to Seducing Stephen, the core of The Gentleman and the Rogue is about a slightly older man who is jaded and discontent; he meets a younger man who re-introduces him to joy and happiness in life. In The Rogue and the Gentleman, the older man is Sir Alan Watleigh, formerly Captain Watleigh, who has returned from the Iberian War, injured and ill and also family-less. The younger man is Jem, a prostitute that he picks up, intending on one night of sexual release before he commits suicide. Jem very quickly gets under Alan’s skin, however, and over the course of the story becomes an essential part of Alan’s life.

Jem is a terrific character. He’s funny and kind and full of love. It’s not hard to see why Alan falls for him. Alan is taciturn and reserved. He acts like the military man that he was and Jem makes it his mission to get Alan to smile—at least once in a while.

Jem has wonderful interior and exterior dialog. In his mind, he wonders about Alan and makes up all sorts of funny nicknames for him—Lord Bumbuggerer is my favorite. He also shows his insecurities and his fears, wondering if, at any minute, Alan will suddenly change his mind about the life he is living and return Jem to the streets of London from whence he came. Exteriorly, he tells Alan stories, shares his thoughts and opinions and eventually, his love. Alan, for his part, slowly comes to trust and accept Jem, ultimately realizing how important he is in his life.

The story has two very distinct parts. The first half concerns the developing relationship between Alan and Jem. In the latter part, the situation referenced in the synopsis, “news about a former soldier under his command sends Sir Alan Watleigh and Jem on the road to save a child in danger…” comes into play. This structure was interesting. In the first part of the story, the conflict came from the interactions between Alan and Jem as they established their bond as lovers and the boundaries that must exist, given the time and place in which they were living (Regency England in 1813). But, in the second half, the conflict came from their quest to save the child in danger and not from some sort of misunderstanding or blow-up between them. I appreciated this as I find “the big misunderstanding” trope to be overused. On the other hand, there was a distinct change of tone in the book—much less sex in the second half and much more adventure and derring-do, with Jem in particular putting his life at risk to save the young girl, Annie. This two-part structure didn’t particularly bother me, but some readers might find that it makes the book feel a little choppy. I note it here as a caveat but not a criticism.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story of two men from very different walks of life who meet, develop an attraction, fall in love, and share an adventure that further cements their relationship. The writing was crisp and solid and the fast moving story kept me completely absorbed from the very first page. Highly recommended.

Buy at the Loose Id website

A Room in Chelsea Square by Michael Nelson

Patrick, fabulously wealthy and with a good eye for pictures and young men, brings the impressionable Nicholas Milestone to London, intent on reducing him to utter dependence by playing on his naivety and greed.  But Nicholas proves to be not quite as pliable as hoped, and a witty social comedy develops as he struggles with the web that Patrick has so richly woven for him.

Review by Erastes

As promised, here is the second book written in the 1950’s – following on the from my review of what I found to be the rambly and uber-literary The Bitterweed Path.

Imagine Wodehouse set in the 1940’s with a gay main character as rich as Bertie and used to getting his own way in all things.  It’s not a comedy, as such, although it has some amusing moments, it’s more a witty satire and an exploration of a particular set of men–gay and otherwise–in 1940’s London.

Patrick is, as the first line describes: “very, very rich.” He’s currently single, and, as the book opens, he’s shopping for presents for a handsome young man he’s recently met in the country. With ease, using a wide net of ex-boyfriends, he arranges Nicholas a job at a tabloid newspaper to tempt him to London, and when he arrives, meets him at the station and inveigles excuse after excuse to prevent the young man starting work, moving him into his suite at a hotel, and lavishing an expensive lifestyle on him.

The book takes place over the space of a week, following Nicholas’ introduction into Patrick’s lifestyle, meeting his friends and resisting Patrick’s advances.  He’s not entirely the ingénue that Patrick imagines him to be however:

Nicholas had a thoroughly miserable bath.  He knew that he couldn’t evade Patrick’s advances much longer.  It was no good pretending that Patrick was going to support him from purely altruistic motives.  Patrick wanted his pound of flesh, he was was going to make sure he got it.  What did sex matter anyway?  It was a small price to pay for all the things that Patrick could offer him in exchange.

The novel was published entirely anonymously when it first came out and from the frank portrayal of gay characters you would think you could understand why, but it goes a little deeper than that.  In fact, it’s semi-autobiographical.  The introduction in the 1986 reissued GMP version  by Philip Core explains that “Patrick” is a thinly veiled portrait of Peter Watson: associated for a long while with Cecil Beaton, co-founder of the ICA and wealthy homosexual sponsor of Bacon, Colquhoun, MacBryde, Vaughan, Minton and other homosexual painters. Michael Nelson (the “Nicholas” of the book) was in reality pursued by Watson, who bought him Picassos and Sutherlands as part of his seduction technique.

Nicholas–like the real life Nelson–is prevented from starting at his Tabloid newspaper by the dangling of a greater carrot, a job on a new arts magazine “Eleven” (which was “Horizon” in real life) together with his friend Michael, Christopher Pyre (Stephen Spender in reality) and a former protégé of Patrick’s: the bon-viveur Ronnie Gras (Cyril Connolly).  It is Nicholas’ constant prevarication as to whether to succumb to Patrick’s gentle but lavish onslaught that eventually causes his downfall.

But aside for the historical interest, it’s a highly enjoyable and entertaining read, particularly because it’s written in the rather affected slang of the upper middle and upper class of the time.

And some dialogue must have been positively shocking at the time, although it probably went over the head of many, just as the outrageous double-entendres of Julian and Sandy slid past the censors in Round the Horne.  There’s one scene where Nicholas says he’s tired and Patrick advises he should rest, saying:

An hour on your back with your legs up will do you the world of good.

Much of the dialogue is hugely bitchy too, and I loved it, because that’s no exclusivity of being gay – that’s how people really talk.

I highly recommend this: It might be rather too English for many, but if you enjoy any films of Noel Coward or in fact any film that deals with this era of the aesthete then you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.  It’s also very interesting to compare and contrast with Mr Page and Mr Clive, which concentrates more on unhappiness and closeted misery, but then this book was written in the era, not about the era, so one wonders which one is nearer to the truth.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: HMS Submission by Jack Gordon

‘I know who you are.’The cat’s tangled thongs fell a second time. Mick flinched, arching away from the lash.

‘I know what you’ve done.’

Mick’s strong shoulders shivered under another blow. He caught the eye of the handsome midshipman. The stinging heat on his broad back increased, as did the burning ache between his spread legs

‘And by God, I will make your life the hell you have made mine!’

Under the command of Josiah Rock, a twisted man with cruel desires, HMS Impregnable navigates a course through pirate-infested waters of the Atlantic, bound for the Indentured Colonies. Christopher, Viscount FitzGibbons, has been forced by his father into a life on the high seas as a novice officer. Meanwhile, below decks, manacled and filthy, the roguish Mick Savage fights for food and plans his escape from the prospect of a lifetime in the penal colonies of the Americas.

The two men are unaware that they have embarked on a voyage towards a shared destiny. And they find that daring to transgress the boundaries of class and upbringing is as dangerous as becoming involved in Captain Rock’s power games or falling into the hands of lusty Spanish brigands.

Review by M. Kei

HMS Submission is a book with a split personality. The first half is a well-written, entertaining erotic comedy as the Irish rogue Mick Savage beguiles his way into the beds of a variety of England’s uppercrust, male and female, and robs them. With the assistance of his sidekick, the cutpurse Cat, he goes after the greatest prize of them all: The Gloucester Diamond. Disguised as a pair of priests, they discover that men of the cloth are just as fallible as the randy lords of London. Greed is his downfall, and he and Cat are arrested and transported to the colonies.

Meanwhile, the bookish and mild Christopher FitzGibbons is betrothed against his will to Lady Violet. Completely ignorant of sex, he finds himself strangely attracted to a Willicombe, an underfootman and young man like himself. With Willicombe’s help he attempts to get a sexual education and comic mishaps ensue. Just when he and Willicombe are finally reaching a mutually pleasurable understanding, they are discovered by Lord Christopher’s father. Lord FitzGibbons is Not Happy enlists his son in the navy to make a man of him.

And the book falls apart.

Once Christopher is assigned to the HMS Impregnable under Captain Rock, and Mick and Cat are tossed into the filthy hold along with the other prisoners Captain Rock is charged to deliver to the penal colony, the author loses faith in his materials and reverts to gay porn scenes. Previously in the book the numerous erotic encounters had some point in the story—Mick’s cuckolding of the betrothed Lord Christopher when each has no idea who the other is, for example, is an amusing scene that grows out of the characters of the various people involved and sets up the complications that will ultimately bring the two men together. The sex scenes aboard the Impregnable are not the result of any particular motivation aside from the author’s need to fill out the requisite number of pages of men screwing.

Needing to resolve Willicombe’s unrequited love for Christopher, suddenly we discover that he and Cat knew each other when they were boys and are happy to be back together again. After mistreating Mick, Captain Rock is enlightened and suddenly forgives and embraces his own gay son. Preposterously, all this happy-ending occurs aboard the ship belonging to the Spanish pirate El Niño, The Boy, who isn’t a boy at all, but either a hermaphrodite or a girl in disguise. It is El Niño who rearranges everything so that everybody (except Captain Rock) gets laid and everybody forgives and embraces everybody.

I’m all for happy endings, and those who know me know I’m utterly in love with wooden ships, but the second half of the book was a snooze. The author couldn’t tell a jib from a square sail, and aside from a few bits of wit when the other midshipmen set up the gullible Christopher for a prank, the nautical errors and mechanical behavior of characters who had formerly been engagingly believable, had me turning pages in a hurry to finish the book. One has the feeling that the publisher had a look at the manuscript in progress and snapped, “I’m paying you to write about men screwing, not Regency manners!”

What a pity. Gordon has a knack for humor. The bookish Lord Christopher—who is so earnestly struggling to be the man his father wants him to be while yearning for his books and other men—is the perfect foil for comic interludes. The reader can’t help sympathizing with the poor bewildered Christopher during the first half of the book. At the same time, Mick and Cat, whose flexible morality allows them to prey on the English, find that their streetwise wits can get them into more trouble than they bargained for. Even when we’re rooting for them to succeed, we can’t help but be amused when they get what’s coming to them—as in when Cat attempts to rob Mick after they have become lovers. I would have been very happy to read an entire book like this and given it five stars, but the second half of pirate porn ruins it.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: The Year Without a Summer by G.S. Wiley

Lieutenant Robert Pierce of the Royal Navy was raised in the shadow of his father, a great admiral, and has spent his life on the high seas fighting the ships of Napoleon Bonaparte. When he loses a leg in battle and is confined to land, Robert is devastated. Taken in by his sister Maria, Robert faces the infamously cold, wet summer of 1816 trying to adjust to his new life. It’s made all the gloomier by his worry for his best friend and lover, Lieutenant John Burgess, who is still at sea…until a visitor brings a bright ray of sunshine into Robert’s overcast life.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

What happens when a career naval officer is grievously wounded and unable to return to active duty? That’s the question that is explored in this short novella.

It’s the summer of 1816, the famous “year without a summer.” Lieutenant Robert Pierce is at his sister’s home, sitting by the fire and watching the rain. He had been a career naval man, joining as a midshipman at age fourteen, until a plank of wood pierced his thigh and his left leg had to be amputated, high enough that a prosthesis was not possible. So he’s become a cripple, living with his sister, and no clue what he is going to do with the rest of his life. He does have a small inheritance from his father the Admiral and could afford to take a wife, burdening her instead of his sister. Trouble is, Robert has no interest in women. The love of his life, John Burgess, is a lieutenant aboard the Dauntless and that is who he wants to be with. If he can’t have him, is life worth living?

The story is told mostly in flashbacks, of Robert and John meeting and beginning their affair. The scenes of them together are beautiful and I loved John’s voice: “I am completely besotted with you, Mr. Pierce.” The writing is evocative. There is a scene in Italy where I could smell the lemons and see the blue sky. The cold, rainy summer in England was also well portrayed, as was Robert’s depression and unhappiness. The ending was melancholy and bittersweet, but completely realistic. And there was even, maybe—a little glimmer of hope, or at least understanding. That managed to keep me from being a sobbing mess.

This is the first story I’ve read from author G.S. Wiley and I definitely look forward to more. Wiley definitely brought the era and characters to life and I don’t have any quibbles with the historical accuracy. I’d like to read a historical story from this author with more depth and complexity; I hope one is in the works.

Buy from the publisher, Dreamspinner

Review: The Bitterweed Path by Thomas Hal Phillips

This long out-of-print and newly rediscovered novel tells the story of two boys growing up in the cotton country of Mississippi a generation after the Civil War.

Originally published in 1950, the novel’s unique contribution lies in its subtle engagement of homosexuality and cross-class love. In The Bitterweed Path, Thomas Hal Phillips vividly recreates rural Mississippi at the turn of the century. In elegant prose, he draws on the Old Testament story of David and Jonathan and writes of the friendship and love between two boys–one a sharecropper’s son and the other the son of the landlord–and the complications that arise when the father of one of the boys falls in love with his son’s friend.

Review by Erastes

This review will be very interesting to compare and contrast with the review of the next book I’m going to review – “A Room in Chelsea Square” by Michael Nelson. They are both lost gay novels, republished, and they were both written in the 1950’s – but oh! The Difference!

I’m afraid I didn’t like The Bitterweed Path very much. Although at times beautifully written I found it a frustrating read and sometimes hugely self-conscious and self-indulgent.

It’s the story of a young man from a family of religious and strict people who meets up with the Pitts, a more liberal and friendly family.  Darrell, the young man from the strict upbringing is attending a running meet, and his own father doesn’t attend, despite the fact that Darrell is a great young runner and he wins the race easily.  Malcolm Pitt is an easy going, well-off landowner who owns land adjacent to Darrell’s Ku Klux Klan father and right from the first meeting Darrell and Malcolm hit it off. Malcolm’s own son,  Roger has been unable to attend the meet due to injury, and when Darrell wins easily, Malcolm accompanies Darrell to collect his trophy, tells lies and says that Darrell is his “other son.”

Gradually, Darrell is drawn into this warmer, friendlier world than his own, much to the disgust of his father, and then his grandmother. Despite this, his life is enmeshed with the Pitts forever–the boys become great friends.

First of all I had great problems with Darrell himself. He’s almost entirely passive. Everything seems to happen to him without him instigating anything himself.  The most active thing he does is win the race, and there ends his pro-activity. Perhaps (and this is another reason why I don’t like the book much, because I don’t know if that’s supposed to be the message, or whether I’ve entirely got the wrong end of the stick) this is deliberate, that after he meets the Pitts, he’s swept up like a piece of flotsam and his life is never his own again.

The thing is, compared with The Charioteer (1953 UK, 1959 USA) – The Bitterweed Path is almost so heavily coded (if indeed it’s coded at all, and not just a What You See is What You Get book) that I found it rather difficult to follow.  Other reviews and blurbs I’ve seen state that Darrell falls in love with Roger but it certainly doesn’t seem that way to me, he certainly is extremely fond of Roger, and it’s clear that Roger is probably in love with Darrell, but like so many aspects of this book, it’s pushed to one side. Darrell refuses to write to Roger, and doesn’t even see him for several years after he’s been sent away to school and his friendship with Malcolm continues.

I was convinced even at the end, that it was Malcolm (if anyone) that Darrell had “unsuitable” feelings for, but as I say, it’s rather hard to tell, as he doesn’t really seem to care deeply about anyone. Except his puppy at the beginning (to which horrible things happen–twice–so be warned.)  But then again – perhaps that is part of the theme too, perhaps the puppy is indicative of his feelings or something.  Roger is (probably understandably) jealous of Darrell’s place in Malcolm’s life. After all, Roger was sent away to school, then to medical college and rarely came home – whereas Darrell was the piggie that stayed home and Malcolm lavished with trips away (where they slept in the bed together, arms around each other), his attention, and half his business.

There’s at least one character who–as far as I’m concerned–was entirely superfluous.  I didn’t understand her existence, I don’t know what she was set up to show about Darrell and I don’t know her point.  Nothing Darrell does, as I said – due to his enormous passivity–convinces.  I don’t feel he cares about anyone, even Miriam (Roger’s sister) who he professes to be in love with and expects to marry and doesn’t, or his wife who he obviously marries in rebound, or even his own children.  There’s also much that is not followed through, too. We are told that Darrell’s grandmother is a hell and damnation type, but we don’t really see much of this, and after his father dies, Darrell seems to do exactly as he pleases and his grandmother goes along with it. Nothing is ever done about Darrell’s running which seemed a bit odd – the whole running scenario seemed shoe-horned in just to show how evil Darrell’s father was in comparison to Malcolm Pitt.

At the end–almost in an afterthought, perhaps the author realised he was being far too vague – Roger breaks down and says that he loved Darrell, probably too much, and Darrell says that he never loved Roger that way, but he thinks that he probably loved Malcolm too much.  I don’t think there was any sexual activity in the entire book, even hidden away in the way it is in The Charioteer, and I wasn’t expecting it but I would like to have stopped feeling so confused.

It’s been compared with David and Jonathan from the Biblical story and I really can’t agree; at no point do I ever feel that Darrell and Roger have that kind of love “surpassing that of women” – especially as they are separated for most of the book and don’t even bother to write to each other.

If flow of consciousness narrative is your cup of tea, then you will probably enjoy this, but if, like me, you get annoyed with having to second guess what’s actually going on, I’d say give it a miss. Beautiful in parts but made me feel dim and left me with a bit of a headache.

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Author Interview: Dorien Grey

A few day’s late, here is March’s author interview – Dorien Grey, interviewed by the truly inimitable Chris Smith.  I hope you enjoy what Dorien has to say.

Chris Smith: Welcome all, to my interview with the inestimable Dorien Grey, author of Calico, the Dick Hardesty Series, and the Elliot Smith Series.

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