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December 2009
Short Reviews of Books and Films

Now Is The Hour

The title is from a 1913 Maori song, Now is the Hour, When we must say Goodbye.  And it's a story about saying goodbye.  It's 1967, and Rigby John Klusener leaves his small home town in Idaho for San Francisco.  Although you know right from the first page that thisb  is what is going to happen, Tom Spanbauer still manages to make the novel gripping.  It's the how that beguiles.  With elements of magical realism, it has his trademark warm humanism without any kind of saccharine sentimentality.  The reader sees what's coming, but the endearing and delicious Rigby does not.  In fact, sometimes the reader is deceived, and there are several plot twists which surprise.  Heartwarming, utterly true and real, exciting, sad, moving -- it's a masterpiece, and it will enter the antique shop of your mind, like Catcher in The Rye, to which it has been justly compared.  Marvellous, a book to keep and read again and again.

Under This Cowboy's Hat, edited by Rob Knight 

One of the problems with anthologies is that the quality can vary.  Sometimes the best one can hope for is just one good story.  While the short stories/novellas in this anthology also vary in quality, most are excellent, some suberb.  Parhelion's novella, Masked Riders, is up to the usual very high standard of this author, and the price of the anthology is worth it for this story alone.  But there are many other gems too.  The editor chose well, and each story has emotional resonance and depth, always hard to do in short pieces.  

The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks, by Josh Lanyon

The author has been a favourite of mine for a while.  His whodunnits about his bookseller amateur sleuth Adrien English are polished  and emotionally satisfying.  This  novel doesn't star his more famous hero, but is just as good.  A classic haunted house tale,  involving disappearing bodies in the bath, secret tunnels, and a straight ex-navy SEAL, who when he finds himself getting fonder of our unlucky hero than a man should, works hard to prevent the inevitable happening. A pleasing whodunnit with an even better m/m romance.  A pleasure to read, with polished and witty dialogue, realistic emotional development, and a tasty villain.

Mahu Fire & Mahu Vice, by Neil Plakcy

The first book in this series was Mahu, followed by Mahu Surfer.  Mahu apparently means 'gay' in Hawaiian.  The hero of Plakcy's novels is a half-Hawaiian, Kimo Kanapa'aka and his on-again, off-again lover Mike Riccardi.  Thrillers as well as romances, all four novels in this series make satisfying reading.  Plakcy's writing improves with each book (though Mahu is nevertheless a good read) and the latest two volumes were hard to put down.  Some very nasty villains, a realistic but not too bleak picture of gay life (including both the seamy underside and romantic depth), convincing character development, and well depicted scenes from island life make these well worth reading.

Bareback, by Kit Whitfield

Not what you think.  Apparently this is the English (or non-American) title for Benighted. The English title is better, because there is a clear analogy in this masterly novel between gays as outsiders and the non-lycanthropes of the world so deftly drawn by Ms Whitfield.   The 'normals' lock themselves up every full moon and fur up in private.  But the 'barebacks', in their human skins, are conscripted into DORLA (Dept for the Ongoing Regulation of Lycanthropic Activity).  The barebacks are essential to the functioning of society, but remain hated and marginalised.  Our bareback heroine, Lola Galley, has to defend (in court) a lycanthrope curfew-breaker who mutilated (at full moon, while furred up) a good friend of hers.  But then her friend is murdered before the trial,  Lola determines to find the truth, and discovers that her society is more evil and more perverted than even she had imagined.  Partly a noir thriller, partly a masterly and perfect internally consistent SF novel, and partly a very sharp and pointed portrait of insiders and outsiders, this book is a must for any thoughtful gay or bi reader, because the lessons are so clear.  The author cleverly makes the reader sympathise with the outsider and once he or she starts thinking, it's hard to believe that the obvious parallels will not be drawn.  A breathtaking first novel.  I look forward to more.

Nikolaos Thiwerspoon is the author of several romantic m2m and bisexual novels and short stories.  He lives in country Victoria, Australia.

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