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Part murder mystery, part romance, part family comedy Ė the novel's range is defined by Kevin Connor, its 23-year-old narrator, in his opening remarks to the reader: "What I didnít know was that before the night was over I'd be embraced by a homeless woman, I'd ignore a call I really shouldn't have, that a man I loved would turn up dead, and that a man I considered dead would come back to life. Now these things were unusual. They were also just the start." The homeless woman is a red herring. The rest sets up the three-lane road we are to follow.
Rich and influential New Yorker Allen Harrington is the man who turns up dead. Kevin had first met him when Harrington called on the agency for which Kevin works as a callboy. When Kevin showed at his door, Harrington rejected him as sexually not his type, but the two began an unexpected friendship based on a shared admiration for Barbra Streisand movies. The older man became Kevinís mentor, the one who finally caught on that Kevin suffers from Adult Attention Deficit Disorder and got him help. This evening Kevin is returning a copy of a Vidal novel he had borrowed from Harrington when he sees the crowd gathered around his body, fallen from his balcony high above the New York street. The police are sure it is a case of suicide; Kevin is convinced it is murder, and if they wonít investigate, he will.
Tony Rinaldi is the man that comes back into Kevin's life. They had been teenage sweethearts, but as the time for college approached, Tony fled back into the straight world and ultimately married. He is the NYPD officer who is on the scene when Harringtonís body is discovered. As soon as the two meet again, the sparks begin flying, and it is not long before Tony is back in Kevin's bed. But are they really meant for each other? If nothing else, there is the little problem that Tony is a law officer and Kevin's profession is based upon breaking the law. Then, too, there is Freddy, who has been Kevinís long-term friend and confidant and now becomes his fellow Hardy boy. There is also Marc Wilgus, one of his favorite clients, a computer recluse who becomes indispensable to Kevinís detective work and who might be willing to become something other than a client. And what might happen between Kevin and Romeo, the impossibly named construction worker who climbs Kevin's balcony Ė well, his fire escape Ė for a tryst? Kevin knows that "having sex isnít making love," but how will it all sort out?
The call that Kevin ignores is announcing the imminent arrival of his mother, a character who could put any stereotypical Jewish mother to shame. Convinced that her long-suffering husband is having an affair with their grossly overweight next-door neighbor, she highhandedly moves in with her son in his small flat. On the plus side, she fully accepts his sexuality and is wildly happy when she thinks he and Tony are back together. On the negative side, he thinks heís got to hide all his magazines and sexual gear since she doesnít know what he does for a living. On the plus side, sheís a masterful cook. Matters quickly get out of hand, however, when she convinces Kevin to drive with her back to her Long Island home in order to spy on the neighbor in her second-story bedroom. While the mystery part is serious, to the point of being fairly tense at moments, the romance is light-hearted, even funny, and the family situation moves into pure laugh-out-loud farce.
So, while juggling affairs of the heart (and groin) and working to send his mother back home to his father, Kevin starts sleuthing. Tony has already told him that there has been a rash of mysterious gay suicides during the past three months, so he may be looking at a more complicated case than just Harrington's death. He finds that his professional experience has given him a knack both for making fast judgments about people and for getting them to talk. His attention deficit disorder leads Kevin to make lists of suspects and clues that are helpful to the reader. For despite his unusual profession and the narrative mix, the novel remains at heart a good old-fashioned murder case with a limited number of suspects. Before it is solved, Kevin is going to find himself in some dangerously tight places, where he will have to depend upon his own wits and the help of others to extricate him. The novel also follows another common pattern, especially in mysteries involving young sleuths: the ultimate mystery Kevin is trying to solve, as he himself acknowledges, is what he wants out of his life and whether he can tear down the "great wall" he has built around his heart.
It's a light read, it's a pleasant read, it is in fact one of the best reads I've had this year. Though Kevin says that he has "about as much business solving a murder as Sherlock Holmes did turning tricks," with a little help from Freddie, Marc, and Tony, he turns out to be pretty skillful. One closes the book hoping that itís not just author hype when Scott Sherman insists in his afterword that "Kevin Connor is coming back soon."
Reviewed by Drewey Wayne Gunn, June 2008
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