Dana reviews Pretty Boy Dead (A Kendall Parker Mystery book 1) by Jon Michaelsen (Published by Wilde City Press, January 12, 2014, 277pgs)
Why I read this: I was given a copy of Pretty Boy Dead in exchange for an honest review. I wanted to read it to take a step out of my comfort zone of m/m romance. Guest Post, excerpt and giveaway below.
Synopsis: A murdered male stripper. A missing go-go dancer. A city councilman on the hook. Can Atlanta homicide detective Sergeant Kendall Parker solve the heinous crime and remain safely behind the closet door?
When the body of a young man is found in a popular midtown park, police and local media are quick to pin the brutal killing on a homeless gay kid with AIDS. But homicide detective Sgt. Kendall Parker isn’t so convinced, even when the suspect is accused of assaulting another police detective with a deadly weapon.
City leaders want the murder solved yesterday and jump at the chance to pin the crime on the drug-craving teen. It’s an election year, so remaining in office is their top priority, even at the sacrifice of the young man. Sgt. Parker is not persuaded and is determined to prove Hopper’s innocence, despite the protest of his colleagues, and threatening the deep secret Parker has carefully hidden from his comrades for years.
My Review: There are a lot of thoughts running through my head with this book. I will start off admitting that romance is my preferred genre, but I like to explore other fictional genres. I’d hate to pass up a good book just because it isn’t romance.
There were many things happening in the beginning of the book, sometimes it seemed too busy. There were also many characters and many viewpoints that the author focused on in various scenes and it made it hard to focus at first. The main character was Sergeant Kendall Parker. As an Atlanta homicide detective he is living a lie, and hiding his sexuality in a department where many officers, including the Lieutenant, believe that victims of hate crimes deserve it. His work partner’s own bigotry sparks conflict between the two. On a side note, in a gay fiction novel, when the main character fights with his partner it will not lead to a heated kiss or more, like it might in a m/m romance. I also noticed that in a m/m romance featuring detectives or FBI agents even the crimes seem more romanticized, and easier to solve.
For me, the plot was very interesting, there were twists and turns, and the attitudes taken at the death of a gay man made it seem like there were many “bad guys” to choose from. There were a few scenes that seemed unneeded in the story and I struggled to see how they fit in to no avail. I was also disappointed that Hopper didn’t prove to be a larger character in the story, as the intended scapegoat. The reader is informed in the beginning who the killer is and the motive for the murder, so it wasn’t a mystery that could be solved along with the main character. The story seems to be a look at how the detective feels solving a murder that hits close to home due to his own secrets and a view of how some individuals in society and law enforcement view crimes against people they find undesirable.
While there were a few things that didn’t work for me, I ended up really enjoying the book. After struggling a little in the beginning with the multitude of characters, the book flowed easily and I was engrossed in the story. I hardly missed the romance. The journey that Parker took in finding his strength and letting his guilt of the past go was a very strong ending and has me anticipating the next book.
7.5/10 pots of gold
The call came through Sergeant Kendall Parker’s cell during his regular morning coffee run to the Landmark diner on Cheshire Bridge. Moments later, the detective slapped a blue light on the roof of his silver-blue cruiser and sped through the Morningside neighborhood, an overpriced in-town section on the northern fringes of the city. He turned off Cheshire Bridge to Piedmont Road and punched the accelerator after maneuvering around a few startled drivers. The traffic proved thicker than he’d expected this morning, forcing him to jockey along Piedmont Avenue and zigzag through the southbound lanes. The call had directed him to Piedmont Park, a popular one hundred and sixty-eight acre triangle of land in the heart of Midtown, originally named for its crop-producing milieu connecting downtown and the tony Buckhead community lying northeast of the city. A body found in a runoff ditch at the park’s southernmost corner had provided no identification or apparent cause of death. Dumped several days ago, the body had washed downstream after last night’s heavy spring rain.
Turning east onto Monroe, Parker spotted a pair of blue and whites angled on 10th Street across from Grady High School’s new football and track field. Early rising joggers sprinkled the gravel running track that circled the perimeter of the field, several gawking at the flashing lights invading their area.
The Criminal Investigation Division dispatched at least three investigators to the scene of every death in the city: two from Homicide and another from either Sex Crimes or the Robbery unit. CID personnel received their orders from the homicide detective on call even though the homicide sergeant ultimately ran the investigation. Sgt. Kendall Parker led the charge today. Most referred to him by last name only. Parker was a major-crimes investigator for the department, CID, his rank Master Sergeant, a ten year veteran with APD, the last six with the Homicide Squad.
Parker ran two wheels of his car over the curb and killed the motor, extricating his linebacker frame from the vehicle and striding across the grassy plane toward the dark blue uniform standing at the perimeter of a paved walking trail. He flashed his badge to a beat cop standing guard at the scene, who pointed him in the direction of the body without introduction.
Head down to protect his face from assault of thorns, he trudged through a thicket of overgrowth and underbrush, the branches snatching at his trousers and poking through the fabric, nicking his flesh. He emerged at the crest of a wide drainage ditch. Looking out, he noticed the storm basin sliced through the southeastern edge of the park and vanished through a giant steel cylinder set beneath 10th Street. He came upon a second cop sitting on the angled concrete about thirty yards from the body and stuck out his badge again.
“Anyone touched the body?”
“No sir,” the man called as he shielded his eyes from the sun with an upraised arm and stood to meet the sergeant. “Ain’t let nobody down there, sir,” he said, jutting out his chin toward the corpse below. “Waitin’ for the MPO.” He followed along, becoming alarmed when Parker didn’t stop. “You can’t go down there.”
The sergeant reached the precipice of the concrete gully. A body lay tangled in a web of branches and debris, face up in a flow of shallow water. The stiff appeared wrapped in a type of overcoat, raincoat, or dark canvas outerwear. A strong odor often associated with a bloated corpse drifted in the breeze. Parker squatted, angled his six –foot four inch frame to make the steep trek into the ditch and walked the edge of water this side of the cadaver, careful not to contaminate the scene.
“Ignore me. I won’t touch a thing,” he said, cursing the cop under his breath. Damn rookie.
The officer’s faced glowed red. He perched himself in a spot above the basin, jotting the detective’s name and badge number in his spiral notepad while, no doubt, awaiting his supervisor.
The detective pushed mirrored shades over his head of thick, dark curls and withdrew a pocket notepad that was as much a part of him as the badge he had clipped on his belt. He noted the time, location, and weather conditions. Surveying the area, he sketched out the scene while completing a spiral search, working his way toward the remains. A crime scene crew would trudge the same route when they arrived to videotape the area scene, but Parker needed his own notes for later recall.
“Call came in at 6:42 a.m.,” a voice said from behind the sergeant.
Parker scowled and glanced over his shoulder, recognizing Timothy Brooks, an overzealous rookie detective recently assigned to the squad.
Brooks clambered into the gully, slipping and sliding on his backside until the heels of his large wingtips caught hold at the bottom of the ditch, but not before his right foot landed in the water.
“Watch it,” Parker pointed and snapped. “You’ll fuck up the scene.”
“Sorry.” Brooks stepped back shaking water from his shoe. “Homeless man spotted the body at first light.” He continued without missing a beat and brushed the seat of his pressed khakis. “Perelli’s taking his statement up near the toilet-house. Dispatch traced the call to the emergency phone up there.”
Brooks sported a wide, Cheshire cat grin as he approached his new boss and stopped several feet from the body, tucking both hands in the flat-front pockets of his trousers. The beat cop resting on the embankment ventured forward.
Parker shook his head and waved his arms at both of them. “Get the hell back.”
Brooks obliged, retracing his steps double-time and shuffling the objecting officer back up the embankment. The cop shouted expletives indecipherable to Parker as he turned his attention back to the cadaver. Brooks had to learn his preference for spending a few minutes alone at a fresh crime scene, so best start now. Parker viewed the precious time alone a ritual of sorts, a rite of passage earned by years of long hours spent investigating the deaths of others. He’d be chastised by his commanding officer later.
A body commanded the heart of any homicide. Parker’s badge required him to confront the remains, regardless of circumstance or condition. Years of experience had taught him emotional detachment was the key to any successful investigation and although that theory may work for some, deep down inside he knew better. Soon, he’d relinquish a piece of his soul to this abandoned corpse, as with every other that followed. Truth be told, he died a little death at the beginning of every homicide investigation.
Gay fiction should be categorized differently than mainstream fiction.
When I think about the time we are in today, its interesting gay-themed fiction, for the most part at least, remains categorized differently than mainstream fiction, especially when one steps back to consider how “mainstream” the gay community has become in the last decade or so, and especially since I came (out) of age in the late seventies. Thirty-plus years ago, gay-themed reading material was difficult to almost impossible to come by for a young gay teen like me. The Internet still decades away, consumers searching for gay fiction had to rely on the back pages of magazines, gay newspapers, local rags, catalogs and mail-order to purchase the reading material they desired if they lived outside a major city like New York, San Francisco or Chicago, options further invigorated by the thriving queer culture and the popularity gay pulp fiction paperbacks found in the fifties which helped open doors, break down barriers for emerging writers of the genre.
The first gay-themed novel I came across as a teenager in a mainstream bookstore was The Front Runner (1974) by the ground-breaking novelist, Patricia Nell Warren. The paperback was in the middle of the New Fiction Releases, and discovered after I’d spent more than an hour reading the back cover blurbs to find something interesting. I was so shocked to find the novel and can still recall how terrified I was handing the paperback book to the cashier sandwiched between a couple magazines for purchase. I’m many in my age group can attest similar experiences. Times have indeed changed.
LGBTQ-themed novels were generally not provided their own section in bookstores back in the day since few retailers would stock such material, often deemed pornographic, vile and salacious at best, especially in the Bible-Belt southern state of Georgia where I was born and still live. Shortly after discovering Warren’s masterpiece, I came across an ad in back of a queer magazine for Lambda Rising, a LGBT bookstore (1974-2010) located in Washington, D.C that sold a catalog of LGBTQ titles which could be ordered and shipped directly to your home. Far before Amazon was envisioned, mail-order catalogs were the lifeline for gay consumers searching for like-minded reading material.
The day the catalog arrived in the mail in its large, unmarked brown envelope, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. The catalog became the way I had obtained gay-themed novels until Atlanta got its first gay bookstore sometime in the eighties, a retailer that amounted to nothing more than a few shelves spread around a room in an old house in a dingy part of town.
Getting back to my original thoughts of gay fiction categorized differently than mainstream fiction; call me an old dog, a prude, or just old-fashioned, but I prefer the separation, or rather distinction as I like to think of it. I grew up in an era where embracing one’s gayness was redemptive, yet more often came with societal and enormous personal sacrifice. Be it from family, friends or everyday strangers many of the pressures were driven by ignorance, bigoted and often ugly. Expressing one’s sexuality in the seventies and early eighties often meant the difference between personal liberation and genuine survival, unlike today where coming out seems rather commonplace, a freedom enjoyed and celebrated – at least here in the USA.
I don’t deny there are those who demand inclusion, desegregation of gay-themed novels in bookstores and online websites intermixed with mainstream titles, but I feel it remains important to designate so those seeking can easily locate what they are looking for in such a niche market, especially if uncomfortable in doing so.
Media has been including LGBTQ characterizations for decades, but readers searching for gay-themed material today may not be as patient as in decades past where instant gratification rules. Designation is important for artists’ discovery, asserting one’s independence and highlighting our uniqueness. Still, I understand and can appreciate differing opinions, especially from younger generations who may have experience a more open and tolerant past.
I am an author of fiction in mystery, suspense/thriller, and speculative genres where main characters happen to be gay. Being gay doesn’t define my characters, but does provide opportunities for some exciting plots, often with a twist. My writing is influenced by diverse authors such as David Baldacci, John Grisham and Michael Crichton, to groundbreaking novelists like Patricia Nell Warren, Michael Nava and Felice Picano.
My first short-story, VOYEUR, was published by loveyoudivine in 2008 and is included in an anthology in loveyoudivine’s His & His Kisses anthology print release titled, MEN, released in late 2008. I revised and extended the story to novella length with the title, FALSE EVIDENCE, which released in 2012.
I co-wrote a gay erotic thriller novella with author Alex Morgan titled, SWITCH HITTER, released by Wilde City Press. My debut full-length novel, PRETTY BOY DEAD, the first in the Kendall Parker Mystery series featuring closeted Atlanta Homicide Detective, Sgt. Kendall Parker, is out now from Wilde City Press and was recently named a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Gay Mystery. My current works in progress are a speculative gay romance novella set in Tybee Island on the beautiful Georgia coast and the next Kendall Parker mystery.
A southern Georgia native, I live in Atlanta, Georgia, USA with my lifelong partner of 29 years and four monstrous terriers.
Find Jon Michaelsen on the web:
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This Giveaway ends at 11:59 CDT on September 29th, 2014. Good Luck!