Sunday, July 17, 2011

Josh Lanyon tells a gripping gay mystery.

I came upon Josh Lanyon’s many gay novels and short stories while searching for something to read on my Kindle. I assumed they would be a quick read and I hoped they would be amusing. It turns out that they are actually quite good. The trad ition of gay mysteries goes back to Joseph Hansen and beyond, and I am pleased to see that Lanyon is keeping up this tradition.

Come Unto These Yellow Sands

Come Unto These Yellow Sands (ebook-$4.50) is one in a long line of novels and short stories by Josh Lanyon. In this murder mystery, a professor at a small college in Maine is gay, and he is involved in a relationship with the local police chief. Lanyon takes the occasion to write some touching love scenes between the men, but they are in good taste and they are dramatically a part of what is happening in the novel as a whole. The novel is an intriguing murder mystery, and the tension between Swift, the professor, and his boyfriend Max, is truly entertaining.

What happens is that Tad, one of Swift’s favorite students from his poetry writing class, turns up outside his office looking beat up and in need of help. Swift offers Tad the key to his place on an island off the coast, and only later discovers that the boy’s father has been murdered and Swift allows himself to keep mum when Max tells him that he is looking for the boy, and when he comes clean a few days later, Max is so furious that he almost books Swift for obstructing justice. Swift apologizes, but that doesn’t stop him from following leads that he discovers at the university and talking to people who were close to Tad there.

Lanyon is great at creating the college context and the mood that haunts creative writing programs especially. When one of the professors is gay, as Swift is, students sometimes suffer indirectly for their interest in the topic. Tad has suffered because of his interest in poetry, not just because it is not a sport or a physical challenge, but also because the poetry teacher is gay. Lanyon handles these themes well and makes a powerful political statement by means of his deft dramatization.

When finally the evil-doer is discovered and the boy exonerated, Swift and Max are able to celebrate together and to move forward as the distinguished couple they are.
This is an eminently readable and at times quite compelling novel. I can’t rank it among Lanyon’s works because I haven’t read any others yet. But I certainly intend to do so soon.

Come Unto These Yellow Sands is available at Powell's and Amazon.

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