Review: The Dark Farewell by Josh Lanyon

It’s the Roaring Twenties. Skirts are short, crime is rampant, and booze is in short supply. Prohibition has hit Little Egypt where newspaper man David Flynn has come to do a follow-up story on the Herren Massacre. But the massacre isn’t the only news in town. Spiritualist Medium Julian Devereux claims to speak to the dead–and he charges a pretty penny for it.

Flynn knows a phoney when he sees one, and he’s convinced Devereux is as fake as a cigar store Indian. And he’s absolutely right. But when Julian begins to see bloodstained visions of a serial killer, the only person he can turn to for help is the cynical Mr. Flynn.

Reviewed by Erastes

We are always, as authors, being advised by Those That Know that to get a book sold and to capture the reader, you need a killer first line. And this book certainly has one:

The body of the third girl was found Tuesday morning in the woods a few miles outside Murphysboro.

It sets the scene and intrigues, without being trying too hard. And yet – although this hints at much, this isn’t really even the main plot of this clever, convoluted novella.

This is (embarrassingly) the first book I’ve read of Lanyon’s. My reasons–or excuses–are simple: People generally clamour to review his books for the site before I even know they are out, and with the amount of books I have to read I’m happy to let others cover it. But I found that no-one had picked this one up and I did it myself.

I have to say, I’m impressed, although–having heard my friends’ praise that shouldn’t have surprised me. Lanyon writes very well in a direct, but descriptive manner. The tone reminded me a little of Chandler, with the touches of description and personal opinion, shuttered away behind a tough guy veneer.

It would be entirely wrong to try and tag a label on this book. It is a standalone, but it is to published in The Mysterious anthology (along with Laura Baumbach and Alex Beecroft) and that’s a good way to label it, if labelling is necessary: mysterious. That being said, with it not exactly being a romance and it not being exactly a paranormal – it IS a great whodunnit, with a great cast of characters all of whom could be the guilty party.

What I particularly liked, though, was the way that this didn’t go at all the way I expected. We meet a couple of guys that the  protagonists tags with his gaydar, and without spoiling too much I thought things would go otherwise than they did.  While I didn’t feel feel ever very close to Flynn–and I think this was deliberate because he’d shut himself off from just about everyone due to the war, and his job, and losses he’d suffered–I fell almost instantly in love with Julian, the spiritualist. “A sissy, if ever he’d seen one” thinks Flynn, and he’s right.

I loved how Flynn disliked Julian – and the reasons why he disliked him. He’s coloured by prejudice against spiritualism, and he hates that Julian is effeminate–because it reflects something in himself that he isn’t able to show openly, something that he’s learned to be disgusted in himself. I loved their first private encounter, and when more was learned about Julian, it made me sad to see Flynn treat him like that.

I think my main complaint about the book would be a purely personal one, and that’s one I’ve often stated with novellas, that this has more than enough material in it to be a full-sized novel, and it short changes itself by being the size it is. It might be this aspect, the pure distillation of so many facets and ideas that made me a little confused at times, and I would rather have meandered along those Illinois byways for a happy 80,000 words without a complaint. Because of the size (42,000 words)

I felt the characterisation was sometimes a bit rushed, we are whizzed around the introductions for everyone in the boarding house for example, the other gay relationship Flynn forms is picked up and dropped rather too abruptly too. There’s so many themes here, the debunking–or not–of spiritualism, antiquated methods of medicine, mine safety, unions, prohibition, and much more. With a novel to play in, Lanyon could have wallowed in the intimate talks with all the other inmates of the hostel, layered the tension, laid more red herrings.  But I can’t mark the book down because of what I’d like it to have been!

On the negative side: the cover is pretty misleading, as it looks like naked men in the trenches, which is so not what the book is about–and the blurb within the book itself could have done with an editor. There are two(!) typos in it–and I really hate these jokey warnings Samhain do.  Warning: This novella contains phony spiritualists, cynical newspapermen, labor disputes, illicit love affairs, high-calorie southern cooking, and more than fifty-percent humidity! But that’s probably just me being curmudgeonly, I’m sure loads of readers love this touch. To me it smacks of fanfiction (from where these warnings seem to have come) and lessens the worth of the book. It makes it sound like a comedy, and it’s anything but that, and it doesn’t do the book the justice it deserves.

But if you haven’t read this novella, then I strongly recommend it, it was exactly “my kind of book” with enough difference from many other books to keep me reading and reading. I’ll certainly be trying other books of Lanyon’s now on the strength of this.

Author’s website

Buy from Samhain Press

3 Responses

  1. Hey, I lived in Murphysboro for a short while, and you really could spend 80K words there if you like trees (which I do) but otherwise …

    I hope that anthology comes out soon–I want Alex’s story in print and this sounds like another good reason to buy it.

  2. and I really hate these jokey warnings

    If we’re collecting data, I hate them too, and for similar reasons. I also hate serious warnings. The world got along just fine without spoilery warnings before fanfic got all indignant and flaily about them, and it dismays me to see them spreading. :/

    Angie

  3. I like the jokey warnings. Xena and Hercules used to do something in their credits years ago, things like “No Centaurs were hurt in production”.
    I don’t really care for serious warnings, but it’s not a deal breaker.
    This book is one my wants list.

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