Author: Steve Neil Johnson
Publisher: Self Published
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 09/08/2012
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Crime Fiction, Drama, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Los Angeles, 1956. It’s a dangerous time to be gay. Nobody knows that better than closeted prosecutor Paul Winters, the rising star in the L.A. District Attorney’s office. But when the police insist a gay man arrested for soliciting committed suicide in custody–and Paul knows it was murder–he risks everything to uncover the truth. Thrown together with a strikingly handsome vice cop with a dark past, the two men race to expose a conspiracy at the highest levels of government that threatens to tear the city apart. THE YELLOW CANARY is the first book in The L.A. AFTER MIDNIGHT Quartet, a four-book four-decade spanning saga of gay life from the 1950s to the 1980s in America’s most corrupt city.
Most mysteries I read, which aren’t many because, I end up not giving a fig about what’s happening because there’s not a lot of “there” there. Not at all the case here. Calling all mystery lovers, this is a book for you.
Jim Blake stood at the top of the stairs, the double brass doors swinging shut behind him. On the wall above him the words LOS ANGELES CITY JAIL were carved in stone, flanked by stylized palm tree bas-reliefs. The wind chattered in trees along the parking strip and again a lock of wavy hair fell across the vice cop’s forehead.
Within the first few pages, I was already in love with the language and writing style of this author. Pretty easy to see why, eh? Paul Winters, Assistant DA in L.A., that’s him up there describing Jim Blake. Don’t worry, the tables are turned and we get just what Jim Blake experiences, as well. Both of these guys, along with Dr. (hah) Stone, mobster Fischer, Paul’s boyfriend David, Jim’s regrets, Jeannie and Pat, Alfred (oh my goodness, how I love Alfred), the dirty cops, the cops trying to remain clean, all of them speak to the plethora of characters that support this story. The key to keeping all of these characters, and the many moving parts of this mystery, in one coherent headspace? There isn’t one. Johnson does it for you. I had no difficulty swimming through the emotions, actions, decisions and consequences of such as they all swirled around me. Goodness, this author can paint a picture with his words, creating shadows and glaring lights, causing the unflinching to flinch, and the indecision forcing life-changing decisions. I loved it all.
Just as quickly, the mystery kicked off. There were at least three possible suspects with dozens more on the way, given the circumstances surrounding the initial crime. This is how you pen a mystery, folks. What it appears to be might not be the case at all.
A large part of this story is also a heart-breaking, upsetting, and unfortunately accurate electric current of reality running through all parts. If you weren’t a white straight well-to-do male in the mid-1950’s, you were treated, legally and culturally, as lesser than, with life-altering consequences, ones that wrecked lives, heaping fear in giant unavoidable piles on top of those daily lives. Normally, I’m able to set aside my contemporary self while reading a historical novel. Not here. It’s all very close to home, unapologetic in its reality. Arrests, punishment, and death were all results experienced by so many for simply loving someone whom society deemed incorrect, inappropriate, unacceptable, abhorrent. My contemporary self was constantly warring with my understanding of history self.
Once he got his foot in the door with the LAPD, Stone envisioned obtaining contracts with the courts to expand his private practice to accommodate thousands of these homosexuals in group therapy sessions to cure the malignancy, and not just in Los Angeles.
Yeah. The author pulls no punches, no blurring the edges, no compromising the truth of, not just opinions but, the practical application of those opinions and the lives they attempted to ruin. Some they did.
Getting back to the mystery, I must reiterate how well it’s constructed, never giving anything away early, keeping all of the known facts and characters in logical order and place. I never once felt overwhelmed by detail in anything that even had a whiff of attempting to corral all of those moving parts. They’re organically dispensed, those details, everything unfolding before my eyes, one flap of the map flipped open at a time.
The relationships and the friendships, no matter the type, all felt real, doing their parts to carry and strengthen the story and its emotional impact. Believe me, there be impact here. Paul and Jim are the focus, as it were, but the mystery and the crimes committed are the ropes threatening to pull them apart and into pieces.
The ending? Heart-pounding, emotional, quiet, and thrilling.
Will they survive? Who does survive? Who’s behind the whole thing? Who can Jim trust? Who can Paul trust? Can they trust each other? What will become of Victoria, Alfred, and David? My gosh, so many questions and I loved experiencing the answers just as much as the questions themselves.
As soon as I finished reading this, I bought “The Black Cat”, the second book that takes place in this universe. I cannot wait to start it and see how all of these people are doing, what they’re doing, and where they’re doing it.
Key references in the novel, which I include here to give you an idea of the high quality of the sense of place, emotion, and truth woven all throughout this novel:
The author’s acknowledgments:
This book wouldn’t have been possible without the extraordinary work of the following historians and memoirists: Jonathan Katz, Gay American History; John D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities; Stuart Timmons, The Trouble with Harry Hay; Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons, Gay L.A.; Helen P. Branson and Will Fellows, Gay Bar; John Buntin, L.A. Noir I thank you all.
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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