Being John Church (A Bucks County Mystery, #2)

 Being John Church (A Bucks County Mystery, #2)
Author: Neil S. Plakcy 
Publisher: Samwise Books
Release Date: September 1, 2022
Genre(s): M/M Contemporary, Murder/Mystery
Page Count: 346 
Rating: 4 stars out of 5 

I will admit it took some time to truly become engrossed in this book, but I ended up really appreciating the narrative structure of this story and it definitely held my interest to the very end. 

Pascal Montrouge, Jeff's lover, is dead and Jeff soon discovers that Pascal is not who Jeff thought him to be. 
"I've been wondering about Pascal's lies. That when he said that he loved me, was that a lie, too? But maybe the real question is would I have loved Pascal if I knew the real man behind the facade?" 
Jeff learns that Pascal's exotic and exciting childhood - something all of his friends took as gospel - is completely false, and some of his subsequent experiences are suspect as well. Jeff wonders if this subterfuge is also the reason for Pascal's accidental death .... or is his death a murder? 

There are reasons why someone reinvents themselves, why they turn their back on family and make new bonds, why sometimes the past is so unyielding and oppressive that dulling one's senses is the only way to cope. And the way in which the author reveals that history is equal parts compelling and heartbreaking. 

As I finished the book, I wondered if some of the additional plot elements (suspected crimes, murders) were really needed here, as the central plot of discovery is enough. I recently found a great quote - "When you meet someone for the first time, that’s not the whole book. That’s just the first page” (Brody Armstrong) and the author's take on that dichotomy is what really works so well in "Being John Church." 4 strong stars. 

I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Subway Slayings (Memento Mori #2)

 Subway Slayings (Memento Mori #2)
Author: C.S. Poe
Publisher: Emporium Press
Release Date: October 28, 2022
Genre(s): M/M Crime Procedural
Page Count: 274
Rating: 5 stars out of 5 

To say I love this book seems so .... trite. Subway Slayings gives us a complex mystery created in amazing detail and depth about a current murder in the NYC subway system tied to one of Larkin's cold cases. This book also provides more clues into Ira Doyle's background as well as Everett's. And the HSAM that resulted from Evie's injuries is detailed in such heartbreaking ways that it is sometimes more than one can bear. 

In the midst of a fairly gripping murder mystery, it's the small moments that really capture the unique relationship between Doyle and Larkin. 
"[Ira's] face had this way of lighting up whenever Larkin walked into a room, like the first rays of sunshine to reach over the horizon at dawn, that always made Larkin want to check over his shoulder, because no one had ever stared at him quite like that before." 
And Doyle's realization that Larkin understands his love language:
"In the past, most guys have equated my need for touch with sex. Don't get me wrong, I love sex, but for me, touch isn't only about skin-on-skin. It's about the way someone smells. The way they sound. The way their smile makes me feel. When I listen to that voicemail [Larkin's first message to Doyle], I feel ... at home. You feel like home. And I think, if someone can make me that comfortable, they must understand my language pretty well too." 
The central murder of this book in the series gets solved in a chaotic scene where I'm still not quite exactly certain what happened, but Poe leaves the over-arching mystery firmly intact (just who is sending those messages?) and leaves you pondering everything about the case. And in the same way, we are starting to solve the mystery of Doyle and Larkin but there is still a long way to go and much to ponder, and I am so looking forward to Broadway Butchery! 

Oh, and Neil Millett. Yes, definitely, we need more Neil Millett. 5+ stars. 

I received an ARC from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

A Death in Berlin (The Simon Sampson Mysteries, #2)

 A Death in Berlin (The Simon Sampson Mysteries, #2)
Author: David C. Dawson
Publisher: Park Creek Publishing
Release Date: September 28, 2022
Genre(s): M/M Historical, Crime/Spy/Intrigue
Page Count: 268
Rating: 5 stars out of 5 

Dawson builds a solid historical background as Simon Sampson relocates to 1933 Berlin, obstensibly as a BBC foreign correspondent, in the second book of the series. This is the Berlin of Christopher Isherwood (who briefly appears) as well as Hitler's early days as German Chancellor. It was a time when people could still think "No. I don't think we've got anything to worry about. It's the communists they're after. And the Jews of course." And the stirrings of fascism were considered as "little more than a manifestation of patriotism." 

Simon, as an agent of British intelligence services and a closeted gay man, has a unique set of qualifications. "When one spends most of one's waking hours watching how one presents oneself to the rest of the world, it becomes ludicrously easy to keep other secrets as well." 

And through his relationships and acquaintance with several richly developed secondary characters (both real and fictional), Simon finds himself investigating the possibility of Germany's covert rearmament, if his first love Justin, who is now a MP, may be a communist spy, and if the records of the renowned Sexual Institute in Berlin can be freed from the reach of the Nazi party. 

Dawson's skillful blending of actual historic events makes the espionage and intrigue especially enaging, and from a current standpoint, terrifying. Anyone who loves history knows the old adage “Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it” (which Edmund Burke, George Santayana or Winston Churchill may have first said), and one cannot help but be aware that there are clear parallels to current developments in our nation and world. 

My only niggle about this book is the enigmatic personality of Bill, Simon's fellow spy and former BBC head of libraries. Bill is confounding, abrasive and a tough nut to crack (and appreciate.) 5 stars for A Death in Berlin and I anxiously wait the next book in the series! 

I received an ARC from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

Murder at Union Station (A Mason Adler Mystery, Book #2)

 Murder at Union Station (A Mason Adler Mystery, #2)
Author: David S. Pederson
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Release Date: September 13, 2022
Genre(s): Crime Procedural
Page Count: 238
Rating: 4 stars out of 5 

This second book in the private detective Mason Adler mystery series, set in post-war Phoenix, AZ, has a brisker pace and more focused murder mystery than the introductory book in the series, Murder on Monte Vista. The same core cast of characters are present here - Mason Adler, an attractive, well-dressed 50-year-old gay detective (with a nod to Dave Brandstetter), his best friend Lydia, the flamboyant interior decorator Walter, and friend Detective Emil Hardwick.

The mystery involves a woman murdered and stuffed in her roommate's trunk and delivered to Union Station prior to the roommate leaving for California on the Golden State Limited. Both Mason and Emil work the case and share details along the way and bit by bit the various elements of the crime are identified, and finally solved, after a few twists along the way.

Where this story really works is in the 1946 setting at a time when air conditioning was rare, your phone lived out in the front hall on a special stand, two women cohabitating and running an apartment building could rather successfully claim to be "sisters," complimenting and coordinating colors for male attire was an art form, and at the Cactus Cantina you could get the regular supper for sixty-five cents, with tamales, enchilada, frijoles, tortillas de maiz and sopa de arroz.  

The murder/mystery is an homage to a 1931 Phoenix murder, and many of the locations are old Phoenix landmarks. I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery and look forward to the next one (which I suspect may involve Walter, Mason and a weekend trip to Palm Springs).  4 stars. 

I received an ARC from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Contract Season (Trade Season #2)

 Contract Season (Trade Season #2)
Author: Cait Nary
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: September 6, 2022
Genre(s): M/M Contemporary Sports Romance
Page Count: 375
Rating: 3 stars out of 5 

This book features a romance of sorts between hockey player Brody and country music star Seamus (Sea) "Camp" Murray. 

For a romance between a hockey player and a country music star, little time is spent in either venue. There is talk about Brody's conditioning and regime and perhaps one scene set in the hockey arena, but we never really get any on-the-ice action. In the same way, Sea talks a lot about the music industry, award shows and recording, yet we never get any lyrics of his songs, although his songs are supposed to be extraordinary. Each man is supposedly passionate about their craft, yet often we are told rather than shown

Sea's hair is firmly established as a secondary character here - its curls, the length and texture and styling are referenced to often, as well as when Sea tosses his curls, shakes his head, pushes the hair back from his face, gathers it up and ties it back, ad nauseum. 

At 375 pages, there's too much hair, and not enough page time given to developing either Brody or Sea's personalities or back stories. And that's a shame, because in between all the award shows and hair, there's the bones of a good story. After getting about halfway through this book, I actually went back to the beginning and tried to read it without obsessing about Sea's hair, etc. I did appreciate how the author gives us some rationale for how Sea has a hard time coping with his sudden stardom but it is threaded through so much talk of afore-mentioned shows, industry events, etc. 

Finally, there is just a few sex scenes here - basically one in the beginning and one at the end - and the whole sex thing is .... convoluted. Sea makes it more complicated than it needs to be, and again at 375 pages, after Sea's third or fourth tortured internal monologue, it all became a bit too much for me personally. 3 "did not really work for me" stars. 

I received an ARC from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.