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by Garry Ryan
NeWest, May 2010
228 pages
ISBN: 189712662X

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Calgary, Alberta, dental assistant Jennifer Towers disappears, her car left in the dental office parking lot. Her body shows up in a nearby dumpster, her last name mysteriously written out in graffiti down the side of the trash container. Suspicion falls immediately upon her hotheaded boyfriend, but already there are indications that more than a little is off-kilter at the dental office at which she worked. A nearby coffee shop owner is reticent to talk about the two dentists. And how can they have such affluent lifestyles given the apparent paucity of patients for their services?

Early on, the reader knows something that the two detectives on the case do not: that a teenage girl is worried about the safety of her kindergarten-age sister. One quickly suspects that child pornography and sexual abuse figure into the murder somehow. There seems to be a strong possibility that Jennifer discovered exactly what is going on, "the source of the smoke" that she sensed in the air. Still the case would go easier for Detectives Lane and Harper, two of the most decent officers on the job, did they not have to worry about their new chief's erratic behavior and close connections to one of the very dentists they suspect of being up to no good. Moreover, Lane and Chief Calvin Smoke have a long history, which does not help Lane at present.

Lane also has his hands full at home with the two adolescents whom he and his partner have taken in. Lane's niece, Christine, was the victim of sexual abuse at a religious commune her mother fell prey to. She is also keenly aware that her mixed ethnicity brings her unwarranted attention from others, as is graphically demonstrated early in the novel. Arthur's nephew, Matt, suffers from incipient cerebral palsy. During the course of the novel Lane's father, who dismissed him when he discovered his son was gay, dies, and his siblings and the father's priest emphasize that Lane remains an outsider. As Matt says about their little self-created family of four, "We're all strays." Between themselves the teenagers fight acrimoniously; against the outside world the family stands united to protect each other.

Garry Ryan is one of our finest novelists in any genre. Yesterday several books arrived on my coffee table to read. There was no hesitation: I picked SMOKED up first and finished it before bedtime. It is the fourth in the Detective Lane series. All four have in common cases of abuse suffered by people unable to defend themselves. Lane and Harper take as their mission to do their best to protect them and give them voice. But the family dynamics are what ultimately make the books so heart-warming. It has been a moving experience to follow the development and evolution of the family and their friends since I first discovered them six years ago. But the author gives exactly the right amount of information in the present work for a new reader to catch on to what has happened in the past necessary to understand present situations. In fact, in some ways this novel might be the best introduction to the series for first-timers since it is the most conventional in plot and narrative style.

Drewey Wayne Gunn, Professor Emeritus at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, is author of The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film (Scarecrow Press, 2005) and editor of The Golden Age of Gay Fiction (MLR Press, 2009), a collection of essays, including his own "Down These Queer Streets a Man Must Go," and a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and a Benjamin Franklin Award.

Reviewed by Drewey Wayne Gunn, May 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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