Author: Steve Neil Johnson
Publisher: Self Published
Cover Artist: Unknown
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 03/30/2014
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Crime Fiction, Drama, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Los Angeles, 1966…Ten years have passed since the events in THE YELLOW CANARY…Crusading prosecutor Paul Winters is on the cusp of attaining his dream to become the next District Attorney of L.A. But a mysterious death and the troubled, dangerously handsome cop from his past, Jim Blake, may derail everything he has worked his whole life for. As the two men race to unravel a string of murders against the backdrop of racial strife and political turmoil in mid-sixties Los Angeles, they uncover a terrifying conspiracy that could destroy them both…and Paul is forced to choose between pursuing his dreams…and justice. THE BLACK CAT is the second book in the Lambda Literary Award nominated series The L.A. AFTER MIDNIGHT Quartet, a four-book four-decade spanning saga of gay life from the 1950s to the 1980s in the City of Angels.
His eyes stung as he climbed out of the squad car into the airless night. Jim Blake blinked, glancing up through the pale yellow haze that hung low over the city and into the swallowing darkness beyond.
Very first words of this story. These. I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, felt compelled to open my review with the first words from a book. This, ladies ‘n gents, is how you grab a reader from word one.
And it doesn’t stop there. Johnson’s prose is enviable – I want to write like he does when I grow up. Speaking of, all of the main characters in this book are circling 40 years of age, working hard to figure out how the hell you do this grown up thing. How did life get so complicated? More on that later.
Wisdom increases with age, hopefully, but it likes to take a vacation now and then. That’s when things get interesting. This is where Blake finds himself, with his wisdom taking a siesta. What will come of all of this? His foibles and struggles and seeming triumphs. Paul Winters finds himself in a similar situation, as does David Rosen, only for very different reasons.
Raids, arrests, beatings. Laws criminalizing sex. The realities in the 1960’s. Still, in many places around the planet. In 1960’s LA, this is definitely the reality. And my anger was easily stoked. Johnson doesn’t shy away from any this. Instead, he wants me to be the one to flinch, as it should be between storyteller and reader. More devastating are the emotional tolls: the inability to spend New Year’s with your partner because the party’s being held at the DA’s house, your boss; unable to marry, let alone live with your partner because, to admit you’re gay, it means the end of everything; to publicly share your joy when something wonderful happens because someone might set the spark that gets the world burning.
He had always pictured celebrating his candidacy for District Attorney with David and their friends, and here he was alone with everybody apparently annoyed with him. He felt badly about the cold-blooded tone he had taken with David, and yet he knew in his heart everything he had said was true. They could never live together. It was just too dangerous.
Love isn’t dangerous but murder sure as hell is. This is just that, a well-crafted murder mystery, revealed at a realistic pace, with twists and slow times included. As they say, things aren’t always what they seem to be and Johnson sets out to prove it. Best of all, some of the characters are in the know, so I wasn’t alone in experiencing those advantages. I was invested.
This feels like a case of someone who might have found his mate too late. Which then begs the question, is it ever too late? And how far can or should you go in trying to right that mistake? Is it going back or moving forward? How much pain is ‘too much’ when heaped upon the one or one of the ones you love? The beginning? The end?
This story is earthy, emotional, hefty, and heavy. No big explosions, no melodrama. Folks in 1960’s LA, feeling the endless tug of the past and the growing pull from the future, trying to navigate it all while struggling to nurture their relationships, of all kinds. Nothing glossy, nothing overwrought. Racism, homophobia, sexism, they’re all thriving while also butting up against the strengthening tides of protest, education, and demands for equality.
I think that’s why this resonates so much, experiencing regularly imperfect people living their lives amidst the whirling dervish of change, and all of the success and ugly that comes with it.
If I could get away with filling this review with passages from this book, I would. It’s that good: the mood and atmosphere and emotion created by the writing draped over me, yet it’s nimble, effortless, a never ending invitation to this story and its characters. All of the blood, sweat, and tears are hidden behind the spectacular storytelling.
Surprises. They’re all over the place in here, popping up both after all-too-quick incubation or lengthy dormancy, all impactful. The story and the characters both put them on offering and I gobbled every single one. I shuddered and gasped and whooped and pumped my fist.
One morning before work, I was at about 85% through this book and experienced that feeling that all book lovers do: conflict. ‘No, I don’t want to stop now’ warred with ‘yeah, I get to think about this all day and relish reading the ending once home’.
Paul knew he would never stop loving him, could never stop loving him, not until the day he died. And he knew that love would be a terrible ache inside him, a beautiful burden that would follow him through the years, that would never let go, that would haunt him with the joy he had felt lying in his arms…
This story is murder mystery, politics, social examination, life-changing love, family, sacrifice, despair, hope, and so much more. I wavered and waffled and wondered how in the world to rate this, given my reactions towards the finale. I’m not really sure why because this book is all of these things. Hope was barely hanging on by its fingertips, with anger and wasted time threatening to pass it by. So much love and comfort and happiness have been sacrificed and lost. Taken, not lost. Stolen, not sacrificed. I’m still emotional while thinking about this whole thing. Hope might have been winning at the end, but that might be because I know what the future might hold, while David, Paul, and Blake do not. Yet.
It’s all worth it. Every bit. I enjoyed every moment, even those that full out wrecked me.
If you decide you want to experience The Black Cat, you’ll want to first read The Yellow Canary. Both of these are on my tops list and re-read shelf.
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,
|This post may contain affiliate links.
|Prism Book Alliance® assumes no liability for the ownership of photos or content used in guest posts and interviews. The post author assumes all responsibility and liability for this content.|