books

Josh Lanyon

Books

Adrien English: Fatal Shadows (2000/2012), A Dangerous Thing (2002/2012), The Hell You Say (2011), Death of a Pirate King (2011), The Dark Tide (2011), So This is Christmas (2016)

Holmes & Moriarity: Somebody Killed His Editor (2009/2016), All She Wrote (2010/2017), The Boy with the Painful Tattoo (2014/2018), In Other Words… Murder (2018)

All's Fair: Fair Game (2010), Fair Play (2014), Fair Chance (2017)

The Art of Murder: The Mermaid Murders (2015)

Haunted Heart: The Haunted Heart: Winter (2013)

The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks (2011/2016), The Ghost Had an Early Check-Out (2018)

Come Unto These Yellow Sands (2011), The Darkling Thrush (2012),  Point Blank: Five Dangerous Ground Novellas (2017), Murder Takes the High Road (2018), Seance on a Summer’s Night (2018)

Bedknobs & Broomsticks: Mainly by Moonlight (2019)

Anthologies: Short Stories: 2007 – 2013 (2015), Footsteps in the Dark (2019)


Adrien English


Fatal Shadows (2000/2012)

Adrien English’s morning is not off to a good start–the police at his door, informing him of the death of his employee and friend Robert Hersey.

“What makes you think he wasn’t mugged?” “Fourteen stab wounds to his upper body and face.” I felt the blood drain out of my brain again. “Those kinds of wounds generally indicate prior acquaintance…”

And it’s likely they suspect him of the murder.

It doesn’t help when someone breaks into his bookstore, The Cloak and Dagger, and trash the store.

This story was originally written in 2000 and revised in 2012, which is why I think parts of it feel a little bit off, since American culture has changed a fair amount in the ensuing decade.

Like me, he’d realized he was gay his last year of high school. Unlike me, his family had disowned him the minute he came out of the closet.

Yes, kinds are still thrown out of their homes for being gay, but it IS less common than it was. So Adrien’s mother’s acceptance of him–and the hostility of so many around them–does feel a little off for 2012, as does Rick’s fear of losing his job if he’s outed. There are also small issues around cell phones, which were rare in 2000, but ubiquitous by 2012.

It’s not a huge problem, but it did lead to the story being a little uneven in places. Which is I suppose the problem with revising a story a decade after it was written.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing, Inc
Rating: 6.5/10

Re-Read: November 2019
Rating: 6/10

A Dangerous Thing (2002/2012) 

Adrien English is tired of Jake Riordan canceling their dates–not that Jake would admit they were dates, since he’s deep in the closet.

Swell. He preferred humiliating strange men in costume to kissing a man he knew. And presumably liked.

So Adrien heads to the ranch he inherited from his grandmother in an attempt to escape Jake and hopefully work on his new book.

But the discovery of a dead body that disappears–and evidence of illegal activity on his property–keeps Adrien from writing and puts him in danger.

You’re the one paying that no account Ted Harvey to sit around and smoke dope all day.”

“I’m paying him to look after my property.” Smoking dope was a perk.

As with the previous book, this was written and then rewritten a decade later, which leads to some uneven parts–namely that drug laws changed in the intervening decade which makes the threat to Adrien less than it would have been

Of course, it’s possible that the book is supposed to be set in the early aughts, but in that case I think it should say so.

Although some things haven’t changed.

“How long have I been here? Where am I exactly?”

“Almost forty-eight hours. You’re in Calavares County Hospital running up a sizable bill even as we speak. I hope you’ve got health insurance.”

I hoped I had enough. I’ve known solvent, gainfully employed people bankrupted by a hospital stay.

Shaky but stubborn, I sat there peeling off the lime-green plastic hospital bracelet, demanding an “Against Medical Advice.”

“We can’t hold you prisoner,” the man of medicine admitted when pressed.

I delivered the coup de grâce. “My insurance won’t cover another day.”

Open sesame.

And I quite liked this bit:

(T)rying to convince myself I didn’t feel so bad, it struck me that I had really underplayed this concussion thing in my own writing. Jason Leland was routinely knocked on his noggin and an hour later was back to chasing bad guys backstage, upstage and all around the town. The reality was a shattering headache to end all headaches, blurred vision, a touch of nausea, and pulverized neck and shoulder muscles.

And I was amused by this.

Sniffing my ear, he said, “You smell good. What is that?”

“Bacon grease.”

It’s an interesting mystery and the relationship bits are fascinating, as Jake continues to try to hide and deny his nature.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
Rating: 7/10

Re-Read: November 2019
Rating: 7/10

The Hell You Say (2011) 

Adrien’s assistant is in trouble. He’s been getting threatening phone call of an occult nature–bad enough that Adrien gives him some money and tells him to leave town.

Meanwhile, Jake is involved in a case that might involve the occult, and is irritated that Adrien sent Angus away without learning where he was going, because Jake would like to talk to someone involved in the occult.

But that’s not really Jake’s biggest problem.

Jake was deeply closeted. He claimed it was because he was a cop — that the job was tough enough without having to go to war with the guys who were supposed to be on your side — but I’d come to believe that it was more complicated. Jake despised himself for being sexually attracted to men.

In the meantime, something seems a little off during the signing of a popular mystery author, and people have decided to come looking for Angus.

“Help me understand. Are you telling me you joined this group and you…sold your soul to Satan?”

“No. Of course not. We all made a pledge to serve His Grace. In return, He will grant us whatever we want. Money. Great jobs. Beautiful women.”

Angus got Wanda and ten dollars an hour at Cloak and Dagger. Maybe he should ask for his soul back.

This book does not end cleanly.

Just so you know.

The mystery is solved, but Jake and Adrien are over. Which came as a bit of a surprise.

“You’re not seeing anyone?” I asked, against my better judgment.

He replied, as though stating it for the record, “I’m not involved in a serious monogamous relationship.”

I was, but it was apparently a solo effort.

But it shouldn’t have, because clearly Jake is bent on remaining in the closet, and it’s not fair to Adrien to have to hide their relationships.

Also: Adrien’s mother has decided to remarry, and Adrien is soon to have three new sisters.

Did these people know I was gay? Was that going to be a problem? Not that I gave a damn what they thought, but if Lisa had her heart set on this, I sure as hell didn’t want to be the deal breaker.

I really disliked Jake by the end of this book.

Publisher: Just Joshin
Rating: 7/10

Death of a Pirate King (2011) 

It’s been two years since Jake walked away from Adrien.

During that time, Adrien has been involved with Guy–who is pushing him for more in their relationships–and discovered that he actually enjoys (most of) his new family. Even if he does often find them overwhelming.

He’s also just been released from the hospital, after a bout of pneumonia, and it does weakened heart no good to have a man keel over into his soup right next to him.

Unfortunately, that also means Jake is back in his life.

“Really?” I said. “I disappointed you? I can’t imagine what that feels like — to be disappointed in someone you trusted. How’s it feel?”

He said tightly, “All right –”

“Does it? Feel all right? Terrific! Then I have something to look forward to –”

I think what I particularly liked about this story was that although he wasn’t always comfortable with them, Adrien had come to love his new family. Especially his new sister, Emma.

I was walking back to the parking lot with Emma when her riding lesson was finished, my thoughts a million miles away, when she said suddenly, very quietly, “Adrien, are you going to have that operation?”

Was it, like, a topic of dinner conversation around the Dauten household?

“Probably, kiddo.”

She slipped her hand into mine.

A whole lot happens in this book–much of it having to do with Jake’s remaining in the closet–but I decided to stop hating Jake, even if he did deserve a good deal of misery, he got a good deal of misery, and he did have a lot of confounding factors.

I also realized that this series was far better than I was giving it credit for, since I keep immediately purchasing the next book in the series the second I finish the previous.

Publisher: Just Joshin
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: November 2019
Rating: 7.5/10

The Dark Tide (2011)

When last we saw our heroes, Adrien was in the hospital recovering both from being shot, and from heart valve replacement surgery.

It’s three weeks later and he’s finally home above his bookstore, but all is not well: someone keeps breaking into his store, a skeleton is discovered in the construction where his store is being expanded, and his family will not stop bothering him about his health.

Pretty justifiable on the last one, since he basically looks like death warmed over.

To be honest, the whole stepfamily thing wasn’t nearly as trying as I’d originally anticipated two years ago when my mother had unexpectedly decided to marry Councilman Bill Dauten. With Dauten had come three lovely and charming daughters: Lauren, Natalie, and Emma. Emma was the exact kid sister I’d have chosen if kid sisters were something you could purchase in a pet store.

On a personal level, he has to work out how he feels about Guy–who was with him for the two years after Jake left–as well as how he feels about Jake, who did finally out himself AND take a bullet for Adrien.

I particularly liked just how slow and difficult Adrien’s recovery is here. He spent a lot of time in the hospital. He goes to rehab three times a week. He can’t even walk up stairs without difficulty.

Dr. Shearing was my therapist, yet another member of my rehabilitation team, which included my cardiologist, physical therapist, exercise therapist, dietitian, and…shrink.

And his new lease on life is something that Adrien has to come to terms with.

I’d never really considered the stark prospect of myself in extreme old age, because I hadn’t figured I’d live to an age where I needed to worry about nursing homes or assisted living.

There’s a lovely passage here, where Adrien asks why he calls his mother Lisa and not Mom or Mum. It’s actually very sweet–and surprising.

This is another very good story–both the mystery and the interpersonal bits.

Publisher: Just Joshin
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: November 2019
Rating: 7.5/10

So This is Christmas (2016)

Adrien and Jake have returned early from Christmas in London with Adrien’s mother and her husband. Adrien goes to work, only to discover the store not open, and his (step) sister in bed with his Angus, his employee.

“Anyway, you think Angus is going to sue me for sexual harassment? You think he’s going to sue you?”

Nope. I thought he was going to fall in love with her, and she was going to dump him, and he’d mope around for a week and then quit, and we’d be back to Natalie and me trying to run the place on our own.

And if that weren’t enough to ruin his day, an acquaintance from several years ago shows up on his doorstep wanting help in finding his boyfriend, who went home from Christmas and then disappeared.

Adrien is also still recovering from his recent heart surgery. I really appreciate that the upheaval of that is something that is taking him a very long time to deal with.

I didn’t want my gratitude for having a chance at a normal life to make me afraid to live that normal life?

Big things take time to process and move past. And Adrien’s move from thinking he wouldn’t make forty to a surgery that promises him a normal life is a big thing.

And of course Adrien and Jake are still getting used to living with each other.

“I’m telling you that I’m going to do better, Jake. I’m going to be a better boyfriend. I’ll take the dog to obedience class, and I’ll try to manage some weekends off. And I won’t get involved in any more mystery— What the hell is so funny about that?”

This is a much lighter and happier story than the previous in this series. It’s also a novella, so it’s shorter as well. But I liked seeing Adrien and Jake continuing to adjust to their new lives, and I quite enjoyed the happy surprises at the end.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
Rating: 7/10

Re-Read: November 2019
Rating: 8.5/10


Holmes & Moriarity


Somebody Killed His Editor (2009/2016)

Christopher Holmes has spent the past 16 years writing his beloved heroine, Miss Butterwith, but sales are flat, and his editor has strong-armed him into coming to a conference in an attempt to help his career (and see if he can stay with his current publishing house).

“This is the perfect opportunity to try something new,” she urged.

“I don’t want to try anything new.”

“Well, you should. You’re a thirty-something-year-old man writing about a seventy-year-old spinster and her cat. That cannot be healthy.”

I was so flattered that Rachel thought I was still in my thirties that I didn’t put up half the fight I should have.

But things go wrong from the start: his car dies, the bridge to the property washes out just as he was crossing, and he found a dead body while trudging to the lodge where the conference was being held.

Christopher is a bit of a queen, which initially put me off or perhaps made me uncomfortable.

I jumped up and started yelling, “Help! Help!”

I never said I was the hero of this story.

But I eventually got settled into Christopher being a little bit prissy and not at all an action hero, and got down to enjoying the story, which was quite good.

Christopher is, of course, snarky, but he also realizes that snark and sarcasm are a defense that he needs to work on.

Of course, sometimes the snark is deserved.

“Did you ever read a story by Poe called ‘The Purloined Letter’?”

“No.”

My eyes widened. Maybe this higher education thing was a waste of time. What were they having these kids read?

It’s a M/M romance and an interesting mystery, and I quite enjoyed it.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing
Rating: 7.5/10

Re-Read: October 2019
Rating: 7/10

All She Wrote (2010/2017)

Christopher has canceled his weekend with X.J. to go help his mentor, who had a fall and needs help with her writing retreat–and discovering who is trying to kill her.

I wouldn’t exactly pronounce the silence dead, as I shoved the stack of papers aside and pulled my laptop out of the case, but it did feel uncomfortably like a pride of junior high school students was waiting to devour a stray substitute teacher.

Despite my initial not being sure about Christopher, I quickly came to like him very much.

I heard her out in silence. Well, for me it was silence. Close to silence. I hardly interrupted at all. For me.

“Christopher, would you kindly shut up?” Anna requested at last.

I happen to like money, so sue me— but not for all my money, please.

Although Christopher and X.J. had worked out their differences at the end of the last book, Christopher’s insecurities and the physical distance between the two seems to be allowing Christopher to let their relationship die.

I actually quite liked that this was the difficulty between the two–not a misunderstanding, but Christopher’s weakness and the fact that phone conversations don’t generally help couples work things out.

I also appreciate Christopher’s loyalty to the people he cares about. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon and rather anti-social, but he does like people–even if it’s only in small doses.

No one was in better position than I to know how easily shyness gets misread for arrogance or coldness or indifference.

It’s an interesting mystery, and I liked seeing Christopher and X.J. work things out.

I also particularly liked the ending, about which I can say nothing without giving things away.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing, Inc
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: October 2019
Rating: 7.5/10

The Boy with the Painful Tattoo (2014/2018)

Christopher Holmes has decided to take the next bog step–he and JX are moving in together.

JX found a house and Christopher has moved up to San Francisco.

Unfortunately, JX has to immediately head off to a convention, and when Christopher starts to unpack he finds something other than his grandmother’s china in one of the crates.

The clock was ticking. Somewhere. In a box we couldn’t find.

I really do like Christopher.

I dumped silverware in drawers, placed glasses on shelves, located J.X.’ s toaster, and opened a box of little jars of spices I had never heard of. What was Tajin? What was Egyptian dukkah? Did we even eat the same food?

And I especially like that Christopher and JX have to work at the relationship.

I laughed too, but I saw suddenly how it probably felt to him when he was trying to be serious and I made a joke.

And it is work. As is any relationship. Especially when both individuals are full-grown adults with complicated pasts and dueling careers.

This is a mystery, and it’s also a M/M romance, but I think there was less sex in this book than in the previous two.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
Rating: 7/10

Re-Read: November 2019
Rating: 6/10

In Other Words… Murder (2018)

The fourth Holmes & Moriarity book finds the two settled into the new home and starting to talk about more serious matters–like a fancy vacation that might possibly be a honeymoon.

Unfortunately, Christopher’s stalker from the previous book is causing trouble, and a body has been found in the yard of his own house–and Christopher’s ex has told the police it might be to body of his PA–the man who broke up Christopher and David’s relationship.

Plus, Christopher still isn’t writing.

“I can’t afford a lawsuit!”

“Honey, it’s just money.”

“It’s my money, and I’m not working right now!” I was trying, trying not to use exclamation points, but they were creeping in against my best effort.

J.X. said with maddening reasonableness, “But I am. We’re fine. If worse comes to worse, I’ll do an extra book this year.”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

To be clear, things still aren’t always easy between the two. Christopher remains uncomfortable with Gage, JX’s nephew, and JX is not happy that David wants to talk to Christopher.

But they actually talk through their problems, and are learning to check their bad habits and worst impulses.

And although she harangues Christopher less, Rachel does make an appearance.

“Hold on. A year ago you told me the cozy was dead.”

“I didn’t say dead, Christopher. I said Cozy was suffering malaise.”

“I’m pretty sure you pronounced it dead.”

“Not at all. Cozy was in ICU. Cozy was receiving necessary medical attention. Happily, Cozy has survived and is on the mend.

I found that bit highly amusing.

But mostly I just sat back and enjoyed the story.

I, on the other hand, agreed with Ambrose Bierce when he said the telephone was “an invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.”

I mean, how can you not love a character that quotes Ambrose Bierce?

This book actually closed all the story arcs of the previous three books. I would not recommend reading this without having read at least the previous book, since lots of events that happened there are important here.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: November 2019
Rating: 8/10


All's Fair


Fair Game (2010)

Elliot Mills loved being in the FBI–until a shootout left him unfit for anything but a desk job.

The pain after his knee replacement had been excruciating, beyond anything he’d imagined or previously experienced, barring the original experience of getting kneecapped.

Yes, I did shudder when I read that.

Now he’s a professor at the same college from which his father retired–living in the shadow of a famous 60s radical.

It’s not what you want for your child, you know?” He had no idea.

He neither had, nor wanted, children, and his own parents had been completely accepting of his sexuality. Choosing a career in law enforcement was the thing that had driven his father to threaten disowning him.

The disappearance of the son of one of his father’s friends–a wealthy and powerful lawyer–puts Elliot back in contact with the man he left behind, and neither Elliot nor Tucker Lance are comfortable with the situation.

What do I like best about Elliot? His acceptance of everything he is.

The rest of the afternoon was spent quietly. Elliot graded papers and did his lesson plans for the following week. In the evening he worked on his Civil War diorama of Pickett’s Charge, which currently dominated the long window-lined sunroom on the west side of the cabin. He had received a hand-painted 15mm miniature of JEB Stuart to replace the former one lost during the move from Seattle to Goose Island. He placed the dashing Stuart with his two cavalry brigades and stepped back to admire. The game table was 4×8 feet and, according to Roland who had helped him construct it, irrefutable proof that Elliot was destined for long and dull bachelorhood.

Why do I love that so much?

Oh, no reason.

I also like that the story makes clear the sheer amount of drudgery that’s part of being in law enforcement.

In addition to the initial responding officers, Tucker’s debriefing team would consist of local investigators and the evidence collection technicians: the photographers, latent print personnel and other specialized personnel. It would be Tucker’s job to determine what evidence was collected, discuss preliminary scene findings with team members, discuss potential technical forensic testing and the sequence of tests to be performed, and finally initiate any actions required to complete the crime scene investigation.

I also liked that Elliot and Tucker start to work out their problems relatively quickly. I really was not in the mood for a whole book of anger and hostility and sniping interspersed with boinking.

I liked this, and am reading the next.

Publisher: Carina Press
Rating: 7/10

Fair Play (2014)

Elliot and Tucker are mostly settled down, although they still have the trial stemming from the last case to deal with.

Tucker reached over, finding Elliot’s hand, bringing it to his mouth and kissing his knuckles. “Can we not talk serial killers before bed?”

When Elliot gets a call in the middle of the night that his father’s house is burning down, he has to wonder whether Roland’s book about his time in The Collective (a 60s anti-war group) is a bigger problem that his father is willing to admit.

“Do you really believe your father has never lied to you?”

“Yes, I believe it. He’s never lied to me. Well, I mean, excluding fostering unquestioning belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and John F. Kennedy. Anyway, I think the first two were mostly my mother.”

One thing I particularly like about this series is the work that Elliot and Tucker put into their relationship.

“You—? Why didn’t you tell me?” There was no pretending that this news wasn’t a shock. And it hurt. To keep something like this secret? Not just for a few hours. For days. Days they had spent together.

In the space of two sentences Tucker had become a stranger.

But Elliot instantly rejected that thought, that reaction. Tucker was right. This wasn’t about Elliot. It wasn’t even about them. It was about Tucker. He made himself focus on Tucker once more, on what Tucker was telling him. Or not telling him.

That could have gone somewhere very different, but both Tucker and Elliot are willing to do the work of their relationship, and I very much like that.

Because relationships are work, and when romances shrug off that work, they do a disservice to their readers.

Considering my day job, THIS totally cracked me up.

He laughed as though Roland had done something delightful. He studied the monitor, clicked, studied the monitor again. Then his face fell. “Holy shit. He has a folder with all his passwords in his mail.”

Yes people. That is a TERRIBLE idea. Don’t do it.

A fair amount happens in this story, besides the mystery of who burned down Roland’s house, and it doesn’t distract at all from the mystery, but rather strengthens it, because life isn’t just one mystery that needs solved–it’s everything happening at once while you’re trying to deal with it.

Publisher: Carina Press
Rating: 8/10

Fair Chance (2017)

Elliot Mills and Tucker Lance are settling into something akin to domestic bliss. Things are still uncomfortable with Roland, after they put his father’s good friend and old radical partner in jail for murder.

Elliot must have looked fairly horror-struck because Tucker laughed. “Listen, your father gets caught up in this stuff, in his causes du jour, but I guarantee you he has no idea you feel like this.”

“I don’t want him to know I feel like this,” Elliot said. He gave a short laugh. “I’m not sure I want to know I feel like this.”

And Tucker’s discovery of his mother is also difficult, since she and her husband are conservative Christians who are not comfortable with Tucker’s sexuality.

“It’s not even— or not only— the visible and pained trying to adjust to finding out gay runs in the genes. It’s the whole… the holy-roller stuff.”

“Sure…” Elliot didn’t really have an answer because it bothered him too.

“I don’t even know if I believe in God. They’re so conservative they make me look like a bleeding-heart liberal.”

Elliot laughed. “Uh, no. But I’m getting a kick out of the fact you think so.”

On top of that, they are still trying to discover where “The Sculptor–the serial killer from the first book–hid the rest of the bodies, and it seems like Elliot is the key to getting the murderer to talk.

When the hell were they going to be done with him and able to move on with their lives?

First thing–that last bit sounds like a trope, but it fits very cleanly into the story and the past between the two characters. Second, I like the fact that things were not over and done with at the end of the first book. Catching a murderer is one thing–but getting him to trial and getting a guilty plea is something else entirely, and a lot of work.

The previous two books were good, but this one was a page turner, where I was afraid of how things were going to turn out, but nothing was far-fetched or unreasonable, which I very much appreciated. And I also like how much drudge work for both Elliot and Tucker is discussed or shown.

It’s an excellent conclusion to the series.

Publisher: Carina Press
Rating: 9/10


The Art of Murder


The Mermaid Murders (2015)

The Mermaid MurdersSam Kennedy is the FBI’s most famous manhunter–someone who finds and helps capture serial killers. But his last case was bad press for everyone involved, and now Jason West is being pulled from vacation to temporarily partner with Kennedy on a murder that might be tied to a case Kennedy solved years ago–and started with the murder of Jason’s best friend.

But Jason isn’t being sent to help solve the murder. He’s being sent to look for evidence that Kennedy has gone off the rails.

The other issue is that on a previous case, Jason was shot, and he’s afraid he’s lost his edge.

Having been shot once, the normal human reaction was to wish passionately never to repeat the experience. To do anything to avoid repeating the experience.

Which unfortunately did not necessarily square with the duties and responsibilities of an FBI special agent. Even an agent on the FBI’s Art Crime Team. It wasn’t all lecturing museums and galleries on how to protect their priceless collections. Sometimes it came down to bad guys with guns, bad guys who were ready and willing to blow a hole in your chest to stop you from interfering with their multimillion-dollar business.

No shame in a healthy fear of being shot. It didn’t mean Jason couldn’t still do his job.

That was the sub plot that really got to me. The idea that someone in law enforcement who was shot might lose their nerve–but still be good at what they do. That’s something I don’t think I’ve ever come across before in a mystery, and it was very interesting.

The other sub plot that I found really interesting appeared later.

Kennedy drew a deep breath. “I made the decision a long time ago that this job did not allow for anything other than… this job.”

This entire story is from Jason’s POV, and he has his own issues with the crime and the town, so we don’t really think about what damage the job has done to Kennedy.

It was an interesting mystery, and I quite enjoyed it.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
Rating: 8/10


The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks (2011/2016)

First off, I had a really hard time figuring out just when this book was set. It was first published in 2011, but re-written in 2016, but was definitely not set in 2016. The characters all seem to rely upon land lines and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was still in effect in the military.

Aside from that, I quite enjoyed it.

Perry Foster has returned early from his vacation, after his romantic aspirations went down in flames. His day gets even worse when he goes into his apartment and discovers a dead man in his bathtub.

A dead man who then disappears.

Nick Reno is an ex-Navy SEAL searching for a job and moving past a divorce. But he’s over-qualified for pretty much everything and struggling to find employment. So when his young neighbor freaks out, he decides to see if he can figure out what happened.

He could imagine what Nick would say of such imaginings. The thought of Nick bolstered his sagging courage. Nick did not believe in ghosts and neither did Perry.

Of course, if some human agent was standing outside his room making spooky noises, it wasn’t so reassuring.

Perry is quite lovely. He’s an innocent, and he’s positive even if he doesn’t necessarily have cause to be. But most importantly, he can be silly.

Perry gave a tired laugh. “I know. But that’s what he said. At least, that was the only thing I could make out. He said something else, but I couldn’t make out the words.”

“None of them? What did it sound like?”

Perry made a violent gurgling sound, and Nick nearly choked on his beer. “You’re shitting me.”

Perry gave that funny little smile, but said seriously, “It didn’t sound like words. It was just… dying sounds.”

He was still reading when Nick padded in.

Unshaven, bleary-eyed, he stalked over to the gas range. “Morning,” he growled.

“Good morning,” Perry said cheerfully. “There’s hot water.”

“I see that. I take coffee with my hot water.” He scowled at Perry’s mug. “Tell me those are not bunny-shaped marshmallows.”

Perry blushed.

“Don’t you drink coffee?” Nick sounded disbelieving.

I adore that he drinks his cocoa with bunny marshmallows.

There’s also a marvelous scene when Nick decides that Perry needs to know how to protect himself. It does a good job of showing that for all that Nick sees Perry as a fragile child, he isn’t.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
Rating: 7/10

The Ghost Had an Early Check-Out (2018)

Nick and Perry have moved to L.A. where Nick works as a PI and Perry is going to art school.

It’s while Nick is out on a case and Perry is sketching when Perry meets Horace Daly, who is seemingly being haunted–except that Perry interrupts three actual men attacking Horace.

One thing I particularly like is that although Nick still keenly feels the difference in their ages (and physical stature) he recognizes that is HIS problem, and works to deal with it.

That was one thing he had decided early on. He was not going to undermine Perry’s confidence or self-resilience with his own fears. Perry was not his child, he was his partner. Physically frail or not, he was a grown man.

And despite their differences, they really do work well together.

“You’d think people who were going to the trouble of stalking someone would be more obsessed with the details.”

“You’re making a lot of assumptions.” Despite the seriousness of the situation, Nick was a little amused. “You can’t judge based on the type of stalker you would be.”

There was another thing I quite enjoyed, which is how Nick and Perry separately see the police detective Marin.

Detective Marin, was a stocky, pugnacious-looking blonde in sensible shoes and a suit from Sears, which Nick knew because he owned the same suit.

Detective Marin, had a nice smile and, unless Perry was losing his eye, was hiding a baby bump beneath that men’s suit jacket.

That’s a lovely parallel there, seeing how Nick and Perry see the same character.

Like the previous book, it’s an interesting mystery, and I very much love the interactions between the characters.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
Rating: 7.5/10


Point Blank: Five Dangerous Ground Novellas (2017)

This is a collection of five novellas, featuring Taylor MacAllister and Will Brandt, agents for the Department of Diplomatic Security.

Dangerous Ground (2008)

Six weeks earlier, Taylor was shot during an investigation. Now, as Taylor is preparing to return to work (desk duty), the two have taken a vacation together to see if they can fix what went wrong with their partnership.

Almost four years they’d been together: partners and friends— good friends— but maybe that was over now. Taylor didn’t want to think so, but —

His boot turned on a broken door lever, and Will’s hand shot out, steadying him. Taylor pulled away, just managing to control his impatience.

Yeah, that was the problem. Will didn’t think Taylor was capable of taking two steps without Will there to keep an eye on him.

Unfortunately, the discovery of an old crash site complicates matters.

I like both Taylor and Will. I like that Taylor is still struggling to recover from being shot in the chest, and that Will is struggling with feeling guilty over Taylor getting shot.

The discovery of the crash site and succeeding events are just stretching the bounds of credulity, but I was ok with it.

Old Poison (2009)

Taylor has been back at work for two months, and has finally been released from desk duty to return to the field. Will is hoping to celebrate Taylor’s birthday and return to full health, but life is always complicated, and nothing is what Taylor wants or expects.

I really like Taylor’s house.

The house was an original Craftsman bungalow. It had been in terrible shape when Taylor bought it two years previously. Actually, it was still in terrible shape, but Taylor was renovating it, one room at a time, in his spare hours.

This is another mystery that stretched probability, but again, I was ok with it.

Blood Heat (2010)

Taylor and Will find themselves in New Mexico trying to recover an escaped prisoner, while also trying to work out whether Will is going to take his promotion and reassignment to Paris.

This one was kinda ridiculous, but I was amused anyway.

Taylor looked back at Hedwig. She bared her teeth at him. No shit. Bared her tiny white teeth like Monty Python’s Rabbit of Caerbannog.

“I didn’t think turkeys could fly,” Taylor said suddenly, seemingly still brooding over his close encounter with the local inhabitants. “You don’t think there are bears or anything out here?”

“No way,” said Will, who did absolutely think this state forest had bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and a whole lot of other critters Taylor didn’t need to know about.

This was my least favorite story of the five.

Dead Run (2011)

Will has been in Paris for almost a year, and Taylor has finally managed to get his vacation to go visit him. But sighting a suspected terrorist (long in the tooth though the terrorist may have been) upends everything.

Will and Taylor were putting their fellow travelers to shame. Taylor ruffled Will’s hair, and Will tried to put Taylor in a headlock.

Well, you had to do something when you’d never kissed in public.

One of the things I particularly like about Josh Lanyon’s writing is that injuries are not something brushed off. A concussion has repercussions–physical ones–that don’t just disappear.

I quite liked the settings of the catacombs and cemeteries.

Kick Start (2013)

The final story has Will and Taylor back in the state, out on their own and struggling to get their business off the ground. It also finds them traveling to meet Will’s family, before his brother Grant leaves for a tour of Iraq.

Unfortunately, Will isn’t out at home, and that complicates things even more.

Will is who he is. He didn’t become gay for me. I didn’t make him gay.” Taylor’s sense of humor sparked back into life— did Grant think he’d forced Will to watch musicals? Eat quiche?— but he squelched it.

We also get a glimpse of Taylor’s family, which is also complicated.

She hadn’t always been this thrilled with his sexuality. In fact, she had been very uncomfortable and unhappy when he’d tried to come out in college. But as society and her social circle had adjusted their attitudes, her feelings had changed. Now she seemed to believe having a gay son was a kind of cultural coup.

I quite liked these five novellas, and will gladly pick up another story with these characters.
Rating: 7.5/10



Come Unto These Yellow Sands (2011)

Sebastian Swift was the bad boy of poetry, the son of two scions of the literary world, whose very public fall from grace lead to a very public rift with his mother, and an overdose that almost killed him.

He’s been six years sober, and feels like he’s doing well, till a single event upends everything.

This was an extremely gripping story, and only a small part of that was the murder mystery and determining who had killed Mario Corelli. Most of it was seeing Sebastian’s support system fray beneath him as he struggles to remain sober.

If that sounds weird or boring, it really wasn’t.

Sebastian knows he was a fuck-up and knows he’s lucky to be alive and sober–he wants sobriety and to move beyond who he used to be.

Beyond the importance of routine, it was vital to stay healthy in times of stress. Swift had badly abused his body for most of his life. His current state of health required consciousness and commitment.

But he also knows how easy it is to slip and fall and lose everything. And he knows that’s what so very many people expect of him.

There was nothing like having friends, family and your health-care professionals go on the record that they did not believe you were (or ever would be) competent to manage your own business affairs— and then having a judge agree.

I really liked Sebastian, but then I do love a good redemption story. And although he does make mistakes, he makes them for the right reasons (hello road to hell).

I also found the romance quite unusual, in that Sebastian and Max are already in a relationship–committed enough that they don’t sleep with other people–but not enough that they have ever discussed feelings and futures.

So, I liked the mystery. I liked the romance. And I really really liked Sebastian.

It would be nice to believe in something like God. To believe some higher power with a greater purpose was concealed behind the violence and chaos.

I highly recommend this story, but be aware it is an emotional rollercoaster.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing
Rating: 8.5/10


The Haunted Heart: Winter (2013)

This isn’t really supernatural; it’s a ghost story. But I didn’t have a better category for it.

Flynn Ambrose is living in the house he inherited from his uncle on Pitch Pine Lane while he sorts through the antiques and other items collected over a lifetime.

I said, “From the way you were chortling to yourself, I was expecting a mummy case at least. Maybe an iron maiden.”

“There’s probably one in the back. I know there’s a coffin in there somewhere because I helped the old man carry it in.” Kirk’s dark gaze held mockery.

“I…have no response to that.”

“He was on the eccentric side, your uncle.”

He also inherited the downstairs border, a veteran turned playwright.

The problem is that Flynn isn’t well. The sudden death of his lover–who had also been his childhood best friend–sent him into a spiral that put him in the hospital, and even now his parents worry constantly about him.

The nice thing about heavy sweaters was you could wear them a long time without having to wash them, but still. There was a limit. There were a lot of limits, actually. Since grooming was one of those things people watched for, I made sure to clean beneath my fingernails and behind my ears.

There is a LOT of grief in this story.

Flynn’s loss is overwhelming–but for good reasons. He’s a quiet and gentle young man, and he and Alan had been best friends since they were kids, so he had never loved anyone else before.

It’s difficult to read his grief, but it’s also not an unreasonable grief, since he’d never loved and lost before. That’s not to say that grief gets easier with experience; only that you learn it’s survivable.

This was published in 2013, and says book one, but there isn’t a second book available. However, Josh Lanyon’s website says there is a sequel coming in 2019. So we’ll see.

But honestly, I’m okay because the book ended cleanly. No, it’s not a romance HEA, but Flynn is clearly in a better place at the end of the story, and although we don’t know Kirk’s past, his time in Afghanistan and PTSD are something that are comprehensible without details.

Mind you, I’d LIKE more books, but I’m not angry at the lack of a sequel.

I really like Josh Lanyon’s writing, and this was a lovely story. There is boinking, but not much; the story is very much centered on discovering who is haunting the mirror and how Flynn and Kirk can un-haunt it.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publications
Rating: 8/10


Seance on a Summer’s Night (2018)

Seance on a Summers NightArtemus Bancroft has returned to Green Lanterns, the home where his aunt raised him after his parents died, but he’s not quite sure why he’s there, aside from a cryptic request.

Come as soon as you can, Artie, Aunt Halcyone had written. The situation has spiraled out of control. I need your cool head and strong shoulders.

It turns out that everyone believes Green Lanterns is haunted, probably by the ghost of his aunt’s second husband, and it’s driving away all the help and stressing out Aunt H.

I couldn’t quite understand the words. It took me a second or two to identify them as non-English.

Oh, right. Because Roma’s spirit guide was a disgraced ancient Egyptian vizier named Rekhmire. Although, if that was 18th Dynasty Egyptian, I was Mortimer Brewster.

This was an odd story, in that I had a very hard time figuring out when it was supposed to be set. His aunt has live-in servants, but Artie has a smartphone that he pretty much only uses the flashlight app on.

I mean, the only cars mentioned are these:

There were four cars parked on the floor of the garage: a 1927 Silver Ghost Rolls Royce, Aunt H.’ s 1957 baby-blue Chevrolet Bel Air, which she’d been driving as long as I could remember, the green station wagon provided for Tarrant and Ulyanna’s use, and a white MG.

It’s just extremely odd to me that someone his age would not be constantly checking their phone. I get he is on vacation, but it was still strange.

Not that I wanted him to be on his phone, it’s just that they’re such a ubiquitous part of life now, I expect them to be mentioned more frequently. Doesn’t he have friends in NY that he is emailing and texting?

On the plus side, Artie does love his aunt, and refuses to leave her alone, even when he thinks she’s perhaps going a little crazy.

He made your life hell when he was alive, and I can’t stand the fact that you’re giving him permission to continue on in the afterlife.”

This is a M/M romance, and does have ghosts in it, but the romance is secondary, and the ghosts don’t feel like quite enough to push it into fantasy (although the lack of cell phone use does make it feel a bit unnatural.)

It’s a cute story, but not one of my favorites.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
Rating: 7/10


Murder Takes the High Road (2018)

Two years ago, Librarian Carter Matheson bought tickets for himself and his boyfriend for the Tour to Die For, a bus trip through Scotland visiting many of the places that appeared in Dame Vanessa Rayburn’s books. But now Carter and Trevor are split, and Carter refused to give his expensive ticket to Trevor’s new love, Vance. So Carter is solo on this tour, watching his ex, and wondering why he just doesn’t go home.

Except that he loves Vanessa Rayburn’s books.

This was quite an interesting mystery. First, the author had been convicted of murder as a teenager, which gets to explore some of the interesting ethical quandaries posed by a real life author who committed murder as a young teen: Can you still enjoy an author’s mysteries after you discover she has a sordid past? Does an author’s past change how view her works–especially when those works are murder mysteries?

It’s not that Vanessa Rayburn is even a lot like the real life author with a difficult past. But it does allow you to think a little more abstractly about a situation that can make people uncomfortable.

In any case, you couldn’t write about the murder of children if you were in the least bit squeamish— if you want my honest opinion.”

It appeared Edie and Bertie did not, and the conversation behind me died a quick and chilly death.

(To be clear, the author in the story had NOT killed a child.)

But that is not the main reason to read the book–it’s just what immediately sucked me in.

What kept me reading and reading was Carter.

“You didn’t tell me you were a librarian,” he said.

I grinned. “You know how it is. The minute guys find out, they start treating you differently. Asking if you can fix their late fines, trying to get you to put the new releases on hold for them.”

Although I appreciated that the main character was older, it also made me wish there were more older heroines in romance.

There were a lot of older people on this tour. I was pushing forty and I was likely the youngest person on board.

But I also liked many of the secondary characters. On a bus tour, of course there are going to be a lot of people, but as with any real group, certain characters managed to stand out.

Nedda said wearily, “I’ll examine her.” She explained she was a retired GP.

“Why haven’t you said so before now?” Yvonne demanded. “Why isn’t it in your bio?”

“I didn’t feel like spending the trip dispensing free medical advice,” Nedda told her.

That cracked me up. The author has obviously spent time talking with real doctors.

All in all, it was a decent mystery, a cute romance, and I enjoyed it.

Publisher: Carina Press
Rating: 7/10

Re-Read: November 2019
Rating: 8.5/10


Fantasy


The Darkling Thrush (2012) 

I’ve read a lot of Josh Lanyon books in the past year, and I adored most of them.

This is a fantasy M/M romance and… I didn’t much care for it.

Colin Bliss is in London for an exchange program to get work experience as a librivenator. But all they are having him do is work as librireddo, so he takes some time off to take a private commission to search for a magical book that was supposed to have been destroyed several hundred years ago.

So, the story.

Almost all the other books I’ve read by Josh Lanyon were mysteries, so it might come as a surprise that the world building wasn’t the big problem here.

I jumped to my feet. “I don’t agree that there are books too dangerous to exist. It’s against everything we believe in the Societas Magicke. It defies reason.”

That was pretty decent, although I’m still not sure whether this is an alternative history or supposed to be set in a “modern” time with magic.

No, the problem was the romance.

First, it felt like Colin’s earlier romance with his boss was tagged on–Antony has little personality and I didn’t get any idea as to why Colin was interested in him.

But it gets worse–the big problem was the lack of chemistry between Colin and his eventual love interest.

“You didn’t like me from the moment you first laid eyes on me.” In the amber light, his face looked stern and golden — like a funerary mask. It seemed a long time ago, that first meeting. Almost irrelevant.

He spoiled the image by smiling. I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen him smile before — not a genuine, friendly smile. “That’s not true.” (He) sounded amused. “It’s quite the opposite. I like you too much.”

Colin has given no one any reason to much care for him; the words spoken between the two are the only sign of any feelings at all between the two.

I can buy the boinking the first time, but declarations of caring and love?

Not at all.

If there had been no boinking and no declaration of caring and interest between the two, this actually would have been a strong story, but the declaration of feelings came from out of nowhere, and I simply didn’t believe it.

Publisher: Just Joshin
Rating: 5/10


Bedknobs & Broomsticks


Mainly by Moonlight (2019)

Cosmo Saville is a witch–a fact he’s hiding from his soon-to-be husband. But when Cosom discovers that someone put a love spell on John Joseph Galbraith, he insists the spell be removed–even if it causes the wedding to be called off.

And to make things worse, the business meeting (at midnight no less) Cosmo went to found the other party dead in a pool of his own blood and cops banging down the door.

But even though it’s only been two weeks, Cosmo loves John and wants the wedding to go on and the marriage to succeed–even if no one else in either of their families does.

The world building here is interesting. It’s a magic-hidden just out of sight world, however, as fast and loose as Cosmo and their friends play with magic, it seems unlikely magic would really have remained hidden over the years.

The mystery was good, although there is very clearly another book coming in the series. Cosmo may no longer be a suspect, and the book may have been recovered, but there are still a lot of unknowns.

I did really like the hand-fasting ceremony.

“Cosmo and John have chosen to include the traditional handfasting in their ceremony. You may know this ceremony as the basis for such terms as tying the knot or bonded in matrimony. The yoking of their hands symbolizes their love and commitment to each other, but it is not ropes or rings that unite the hearts and bodies of two men for all their lives. Love is not a restraint or restriction or a predicament. Rings may be lost, cords maybe be cut, and bodies will die, but true love is eternal.

That was a lovely bit.

Overall, however, I feel like this story had some big weaknesses. I don’t see how magic would remain hidden if witches all over the world were as lax about hiding what they were as Cosmo and his friends.

And I took issue with this:

After John had left me, I had done a forgetting spell on the building to remove my fingerprints and a forgetting spell on the street to remove my image from any stray security cameras.

Unless it’s a really small town, security camera coverage is pretty ubiquitous; it seems like that would cause more problems than it would solve, and it also seems like an extremely powerful spell to be so broadly employed. And so far, aside from having to keep things secret, there don’t seem to be any downsides to magic use, so I’m not sure what the costs are, which I find problematic.

That’s not to say this is a bad story, only that it has a lot of weaknesses that I wasn’t necessarily expecting. I’ll keep reading, because I do really want to know what happens, but right now this isn’t anything I’d jump to re-read.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
Rating: 6/10


Anthologies


Short Stories: 2007 – 2013 (2015)

This is a short story collection (obviously, from the name) but to be clear, these aren’t mysteries like most of her longer works I’ve read. It wasn’t a bad thing, just different.

Perfect Day
A Limited Engagement
In Sunshine or In Shadow
The French Have a Word for It
In a Dark Wood
Until We Meet Once More
Heart Trouble
In Plain Sight

Perfect Day finds Graham and Wyatt on a camping trip–and possibly at the end of their relationship, as Graham is still in love with his previous lover, who died unexpectedly.

“If it was — if I was — it would be someone like you.”

Someone like me. But not me. Obviously not me.

Funny that of all the things he said that morning, that hurt the most.

I know people who have lost partners, and was hard for them to move on.

A Limited Engagement was a surprisingly difficult story.

He followed me inside, shaking his wet, black hair out of his eyes. He wasn’t wearing gloves, and his hands were red from the cold. His Joseph Abboud overcoat dripped in a silent puddle around his expensively shod feet. “I am going to kill you,” he said carefully and quietly, and he launched himself at me.

I jumped back, my foot slipped on the little oriental throw rug, and I went down, crashing into the walnut side table, knocking it — and the globe lamp atop it — over. The lamp smashed on the wooden floor, shards of painted flowers scattering down the hallway.

Ross’s cold hands locked around my throat. Big hands, powerful hands — hands that could stroke and soothe and tease and tantalize — tightened, choking me. I clawed at his wrists, squirming, wriggling, trying to break his hold.

I get (mostly) why Adam acted as he did. And why Ross reacted as he did. It was just that there could be reconciliation so quickly.

In Sunshine or In Shadow. Kiernan and Rick are cops and partners–and for a short while had been more, but an incident on the job changed things for both of them, and so Kiernan has decided to move on (and justifiably so) and begins his new chapter with a trip to Ireland.

The French Have a Word for It finds two men reunited after a decade apart. Thomas, the bodyguard, and Colin the teen he rescued and guarded.

I really really liked Thomas here: his recognition of both their age differences when they parted, as well as the dynamic of hero worship between them.

In a Dark Wood was a mystery, of a young man who saw something disturbing as a kid, and the police officer who wants to discover the mystery and perhaps save Tim from himself.

Although there are mystery elements, the heart of the story is what Tim saw as a kid, and how it continued to affect him, regardless of whether he chose to admit it or not.

“Please tell me you’re just the same sober.”

The merry-go-round slowed…slowed…glided gradually to a stop. It was nice to lie there like that, skin on skin, listening to the faraway chirp of crickets and frogs. His words finally registered. I laughed and lifted my head. “It’s moot. I’m never sober.”

His mouth was a kiss away. He said wryly, “You think you’re joking.”

Until We Meet Once More is a military story, and has a lot of boinking, but which was kinda integral to the story, of how the two men saw and felt about each other, and how their youth and the world in which they grew up drove them apart. (And the chance encounter that put them back together.)

Heart Trouble was troublesome for me, because of the issues inherent in a doctor patient relationship.

In Plain Sight was a mystery / missing persons story, of two law men and the difficulties of being day in such a masculine environment.

All in all it was an interesting anthology.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
Rating: 7.5/10

Footsteps in the Dark (2019) L.B. Gregg, Nicole Kimberling, Josh Lanyon, Dal MacLean, Z.A. Maxfield, Meg Perry, C.S. Poe and S.C. Wynne

Entrée to Murder by Nicole Kimberling
Twelve Seconds by Meg Perry
Reality Bites by S.C. Wynne
Blind Man’s Buff by L.B. Gregg
A Country for Old Men by Dal Maclean
Pepper the Crime Lab by Z.A. Maxfield
Lights. Camera. Murder. by C.S. Poe
Stranger in the House by Josh Lanyon

This is an anthology of mysteries with M/M romance. Most, but not all, of the stories have boinking.

Entrée to Murder by Nicole Kimberling

After a steady diet of big city trouble, Chef Drew Allison moved to the island town of Orca’s Slough to get a taste of life in the slow lane. But hometown hospitality goes stale when he finds a dead body in the basement of his own Eelgrass Café.

I really like Drew. He wants to make his restaurant work, and wants to get his partner out of trouble, but since part of the trouble is their bartender, he’s kinda of stuck. He also a genuinely good person who wants to take care of his employees, especially Lionel, his young assistant.

I vaguely recollected that Lionel’s grandmother had refused to teach him to cook because “his wife would take care of that for him,” while his busy single mother possessed neither the time nor the inclination.

I also love this story for the variety of characters, including two older women who are also main characters, and a delight.

All but one looked up as I entered.

“This is Andrew,” Evelyn announced, waving her hand back as though I were some stray dog that had followed her home. “He’s the chef at the murder restaurant.”

To my surprise, only one of the old ladies seemed scandalized, and she appeared to be mainly irritated at Evelyn.

“I’m sure he doesn’t want to be introduced like that.”

The mystery is good, but what makes the story are the interactions between the characters, like Drew seeing Lionel getting dropped off at work.

(S)he told him off in Korean. I stood gawking, impressed by the volume she managed to produce from her tiny body. She put to shame a couple of chefs I’d trained under.

When she noticed me watching, she changed her tone to chirpy English. “Okay, I love you, bye, bye!”

I really enjoyed this story.

Twelve Seconds by Meg Perry

A mysterious phone call, a missing executive, and an exploding rocket throw space reporter Justin Harris and Air Force Special Agent Greg Marcotte into an investigation that will change their lives…if it doesn’t kill them first.

This story alternates POV between Justin and Greg.

As a space reporter for the Hughes-Simmons news syndicate, parent of the Orlando Tribune and other major newspapers around the US, Justin Harris was expected to respond to space news regardless of the hour. If an air leak developed in the International Space Station, if a rocket failed on a launch pad in French Guiana or Kazakhstan, if Elon Musk tweeted anything, Justin needed to hear about it.

This is the story that I read bits out loud to Michael. And it wasn’t even the dialog, but a bit with an alligator and an unexpected dead body.

Greg clapped Fleshman on the shoulder. “This sort of decision, Airman, is why God invented colonels. And here comes mine now.”

Ward Vernon strode up to them, scowling. “Where the hell is Santos?”

Greg said, “Throwing up, sir.” He pointed to the gator.

Vernon’s jaw dropped. “Jeeezus Hallelujah Christ!”

Airman Fleshman was biting his lip to keep from laughing.

Mindy arrived a few minutes later and surveyed the situation, shaking her head. “Damn.”

Vernon said, “Indeed. What kind of gun do we need to kill this gator, Agent Leonard?”

“Our service weapons would work, sir. But it’s illegal to kill a gator without a permit.”

Vernon scowled. “We’re the United States Air Force, dammit. We’ll shoot whatever we like.

I think what I liked about those bits were that they felt precisely like what would happen in that situation.

I also loved that Justin was a tremendous, adorable geek.

This was another great story.

Reality Bites by S.C. Wynne

Detective Cabot Decker is called to the set of hot-shot TV producer Jax Thornburn’s reality-TV show after a contestant is mauled to death by a tiger. Is someone trying to ax Jax’s career—or Jax himself?

This was a Hollywood story, so the setting was a little less appealing to me, but the main character was a police detective, so that was a definite plus.

I kinda wanna make Michael read this story, since a major plot point is an electronic lock, and he knows lots and lots about this. But from what I’ve listened to over the years, they got things correct.

The characters were fine. Not my favorites of this series, but that was mostly comparing it to other stories.

“I’m still not sure about this.”

“I’ll make sure you have fun.”

“I don’t want to have fun.”

“Then I’ll make sure you have a horrible evening.”

“I can do that all by myself.”

“I’ll pick you up at eight.”

The mystery was the strong point of this story, and I very much liked it.

Blind Man’s Buff by L.B. Gregg

A game of Capture the Flag turns deadly inside an abandoned shopping mall when Tommy and Jonah stumble into a homicidal maniac’s hunting grounds.

This was a very interesting story. If it was a movie, I totally wouldn’t watch it, because things chasing and attacking in the dark are so very much not my thing, but the premise and the characters were lovely. Tommy and Jonah are high school teachers, and also tremendous geeks, who like physical RPGs, like the game of capture the flag they are playing in an old mall.

What makes Tommy so likable and adorable is that he is still a dork, even if he’s also the tank of the group and has spent years honing his body and doing things like parkour. (Did I mention the pakour? As a life-long klutz, I adore parkour.)

I’d spent most of the last decade working to become more like Thor because the weak, geek, queer motif hadn’t paid off for me, personally.

But he’s also a grown-up.

Here’s the adult learning curve in life— or mine, anyway. Adulting is about facing hard tasks, difficult decisions, and unpleasant realities. Stepping up to the plate even when you don’t want to, because you have to. But sometimes adult life requires you to stand down, listen to others, and find the grace to compromise respectfully.

There were a couple of issues with the mystery here, but mostly I really liked it.

A Country for Old Men by Dal Maclean

Inspector Calum Macleod has returned to the Western Isles of Scotland to bury a part of himself he can’t accept. But the island has old secrets of its own. When a murderer strikes, Calum finds his past can’t be so easily escaped.

This was possibly my least favorite story in the anthology, but that’s mostly because I don’t like second-chances romances where they main characters are antagonistic towards each other at the start.

But it still had plenty of positives.

“You know what’s disappointing?” Adam asked. “I do Muay Thai— Thai kickboxing— every week. It’s supposed to be good against knives. But… it turns out you don’t necessarily understand someone’s going to attack you until the knife’s already at your throat.”

Another good mystery.

Pepper the Crime Lab by Z.A. Maxfield

When Lonnie Boudreaux’s neighbor is murdered, he must foster the man’s dog, befriend a mysterious former cop, and stop the killer—or else!

I especially liked the main characters in this story. Lonnie is a workaholic whose health has forced him to reevaluate his life.

The mystery was also very well done, and I would actually love spending more time with these characters.

Lights. Camera. Murder. by C.S. Poe

When a hotshot television producer hires him to recover a stolen script, NY PI Rory Byrne must go undercover on the set of the ground-breaking historical drama The Bowery–a job complicated by Rory’s unexpected attraction to handsome, talented, and out-and-proud actor Marion Roosevelt.

Another TV-set mystery, this one set in New York. The main character is a private investigatory who is set to the set of a TV show to figure out which of 100 possible people are a thief.

One of the things I liked best about this story was the premise of the TV series: an historical series with a M/M romance. It allowed almost the entire cast to be LGBTQ.

I also very much like the mystery, although the romance between the two characters didn’t do much for me.

Stranger in the House by Josh Lanyon

Miles Tuesday’s memories of Montreal are happy ones, but now that he has inherited the house at 9 Braeside, everything feels different. Was Madame Martel’s fatal fall really an accident?

This is another story where I liked the mystery, but felt like the romance was lacking.

In the old days, confirmed bachelor was code for gay, but Miles was pretty sure in Oliver’s case it meant middle-aged-heterosexual-used-to-having-his-own-way.

Miles is a really really nice guy.

“I’m an enterprise architect for BEC Financial.” “Enterprise architect. Is that something to do with IT?” “It’s everything to do with IT,” Oliver said cheerfully. It sounded really dull, but Oliver seemed happy about it.

Since the boinking part of these stories are my least favorite bits, that lack didn’t bother me that much, it just made the boinking more annoying that normal.

What impressed me most about this book was that these were novellas and and short novels, and all were excellent. That rarely happens in an anthology, but here even if one part of the story felt weak to me, the strengths of the other parts lifted it up.

Fabulous.

Publisher: JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
Rating: 9/10