The Adrien English Mysteries by Josh Lanyon – review

Title: The Adrien English MysteriesFatal Shadows, A Dangerous Thing, The Hell You Say
Author: Josh Lanyon
Genre: Contemporary romance, detective mystery
Fatal Shadows
and A Dangerous Thing at Loose ID

The Hell You Say at Loose ID
Fatal Shadows
and A Dangerous Thing – $6.99
A Dangerous Thing – $7.99
Other Information/warnings: gore, explicit m/m, occult references

Summary (from publisher):
Fatal Shadows
A serial killer is stalking gay men, and a tawny-eyed LAPD detective wants bookseller Adrien English in handcuffs — for all the wrong reasons!

A Dangerous Thing
When his romance goes south, Adrien heads north to the California Motherlode country. Can murder — and Adrien’s favorite LAPD detective — be far behind?

The Hell You Say
When bookstore assistant Angus falls afoul of a Satanic cult, Adrien falls afoul of Jake — but despite the fact that his amateur sleuthing is playing hell with his love life, Adrien can’t help but delving into this case of kooks, cults, devil worship, and human sacrifice.

My review:

In the Adrien English Mysteries, Adrien is a author cum bookseller with a weak heart and a somewhat fragile psyche, whose lover is a gay cop, and who becomes embroiled in murder mysteries which he solves without much assistance from the police.

In The Dark Horse, Sean is an actor with a fragile psyche and a gay cop for a lover, who has to solve a murder mystery without much assistance from the police.

In Snowball in Hell, Nathan is a journalist with a fragile psyche and poor health, with a gay cop for a potential boyfriend, who has to solve a murder mystery without much assistance from the police.

Anyone else spotting a pattern here? 🙂 Two of the three heroes mentioned above are independently wealthy, and two also have mothers who are unusually prominent in their lives.

That it’s highly noticeable that the author has certain preferences in his set ups, isn’t a problem really, since audiences tend to crave more of the same from authors, and Lanyon presumably knows what his readers want. However, that repetition gets a tad irritating in the Adrien English stories which are so self-referential it’s a wonder the author doesn’t sprain something with all the winking and nodding going on. “I felt like I’d stumbled into an episode of Scooby-Doo,” Adrien says at one point, and yes, come to mention it….

Not only does Adrien, our narrator for the stories, constantly remind the reader of the similarity between his situation and other amateur sleuths like Miss Marple (as if we couldn’t work it out for ourselves), the protagonist of his own novels is a “gay sleuth and Shakespearean actor” who gets himself into situations rather like Adrien does. And if that wasn’t enough, two recurring characters, writers in Adrien’s writing group, have rather blatantly based their lead amateur detective on Adrien himself. It’s at this point the reader is likely to collapse under the burden of suspending disbelief. Too often I see authors carefully pointing out to readers the weaknesses in their own plots and characterisation, and I have to tell you, guys, we don’t need the help to see it, honest.

To dispense with the other negatives before I get onto the deserved praise – the plots in the Adrien English series are pretty damn dumb, the kind of thing which is standard in a television series like Buffy, but which don’t pass under the radar quite so easily without the rapid switching of scenes and visual distractions of TV. Along with the dumb plots, we have dumb (and bigoted) cops which don’t strike me as particularly credible – this aspect improves somewhat by the third story, which is far and away the best of the three for coherency and characterisation. And finally, it’s intensely annoying when a lead character is given a fatal flaw like a weak heart which only makes an appearance when it suits the plot – so Adrien faints in shock at a strategic point which gives him a ‘moment’ with the buff cop, but his heart seems to be perfectly capable of withstanding both incredible vigourous exercise (running, mountain climbing) and other, greater frights and shocks with ease. Real people with heart trouble (and I know at least two very well) aren’t able to dismiss their damaged organ with such élan, and it tends to govern everything they do.

Aside from these not inconsiderable annoyances, (which, however, won’t bother everyone) these are cracking reads. The real strength is the relationship between English and his cop, Jake Riordan. The set up of Riordan’s character – someone who’s perfectly comfortable with being known to be into S&M and yet who’s apparently deeply in the closet about his homosexuality – made little sense to begin with, but the way his relationship grows with Adrien works much better, and feels real. Jake is a competent, brave cop without being ridiculous about it, a flawed human being but admirable in his own way. Adrien is a thoughtful, intelligent person, although with the obligatory tendency of amateur sleuths of doing really idiotic things to further his investigations.

The way the two of them tiptoe around Jake’s issues, the way the sex has to stand in for true emotional openness, was well handled – the sex too, is well done and well used, and a cut above the norm for this genre. I liked Adrien as a character better as the series went on, and minor characters, like Adrien’s mother and his series of temp assistants, are well described and vivid. These aspects carry the reader past the silly plots quite well, and though I was rather annoyed at myself, I was left wanting to read more at the end of each story – which is exactly what a good author (or at least a successful one) should want to do. The growth of the characters over the series is one thing which kept me hooked.

The Hell You Say leaves us at an unhappy point in the relationship between Jake and Adrien – a brave decision in this genre, but presumably setting us up for the next book. As a series, they’re enjoyable engrossing stories, especially the last one (only it will be rather unsatisfying without having read the first two). A tad overpriced for ebooks, they still represent decent value for money if you like this genre, and you can pay the same for far worse material. Recommended.