Title: Sparring with Shadows (Gaslight Mysteries, #2)
Author: Erin O’Quinn
Publisher: Amber Allure
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Simon Hart, private investigator, has always thought of himself as a regular fellow. He’s standoffish and a loner with a sullen attitude–yet surely a normal bloke. And then he meets the randy Michael McCree.
In short order, Michael has become his flat-mate, his business partner, and his wannabe lover. Now Simon must look deeper, into his own hidden desires, if he wants to survive.
There’s something about Michael’s secret vocation that invites trouble. Simon finds himself sparring with shadows: in the hidden bedrooms of a roaring twenties version of a gay bar…as a chained wall decoration in the flat of a thief and sexual deviant…and as the quarry in a deadly confrontation in an exhibitionist’s bed and then in a sewer tunnel beneath the streets of a 1923 city somewhere in Ireland.
Above all, Simon is sparring with the shadow of his own secret urges. Michael will not allow him to turn away from a kind of private investigation of which he has not even dreamed. Until now.
Follow a fastidious, surly investigator and his horny yet secretive partner through the very cracks in a city of gaslights and vintage motorcars, into a hidden homosexual culture, as the men find themselves sparring with shadows…
I’ll start this review with a snippet borrowed from my pre-Prism days’ review of the first of Erin O’Quinn’s Gaslight Mysteries, Heart to Hart:
“O’Quinn’s imaginary Irish city in 1923 echoes Jordan Hawk’s Widdershins in her series of American-based late Victorian m/m mysteries. O’Quinn’s 1920s setting, just after World War I, recalls Tamara Allen’s jazz-age settings for her great books, including “Whistling in the Dark.” The core premise of the first book is that Simon Hart is grieving and angry, because after burying both his emotions and his physical urges for all of his twenty-five years, his closest friend, business partner–and potential lover–is brutally murdered. He happens upon Michael McCrae while leaving his friend’s obituary notice at McCrae’s paper.”
Ok, that out of the way, what struck me in the second of O’Quinn’s books is that the action commences TWENTY-FOUR HOURS after the first one ended. Whew. Hardly time to catch one’s breath. Secondly, the sexual tension, and the rather constant throb of our MCs’ ample lovehammers, still make sense in the context of the narrative. Moreover, all the sexy stuff seems to be handled with greater emotional power than in the first book.
Simon Hart and Michael McCrae have worked out a business partnership; but it is clear that Simon is still not ready to admit that he might be “that way.” I would snort in derision except that it is Ireland in 1923, and we all know how deluded men can be when they want to be.
For all my joking, there is something palpably touching and honest about this book in the way it looks at the two men’s feelings. O’Quinn shows us what’s going on in each man’s mind—often through repeating scenes from both points of view. Michael’s aggressive, brazen homosexuality still puts Simon off—more comfortable in his repression than he should be, still not willing to admit that there is more than just lust driving his attraction to the brawny blond. On the other hand, Simon can also see that Michael is truly in love with him, not just trying to screw him. For both the reader and the Simon, it is hard to resist Michael McCrae’s charms.
And the thing that really makes this book a good read is NOT the sexual side, but the action; the fascinating story about the demimonde of 1920s urban Ireland. I am assuming that Erin O’Quinn didn’t just make this all up—there’s a glossary, after all, at the beginning. Thus we are treated to a historical overview of perversion and social transgression that is quite interesting. It all has a very 1920s feel to the storyline.
And yes, O’Quinn does make a nod to Holmes and Watson in her foreword. But I never once thought of them during this book. Hart and McCrae are originals, the both of them. In the end, it’s Simon and Michael who carry our hearts with them, even as they struggle to decide how their own hearts will fare.
Can’t wait to read book three.
This review is based on a copy purchased by the reviewer independent of any review copies offered.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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