March 9, 2015
Recently, I’ve been blessed with several reviews for the Gaslight Mysteries. The writers are top-notch, and I would tell you the same thing even if they didn’t jump up and down and rave over my stuff. A few of them sneak to the edge of 5.0 and back away a bit. Hey, that’s all the more reason to love the honesty and the fairness. I have not yet got a snarky review, in spite of almost 50 on Amazon alone. So I’m gratified!
I’ll begin with a series of four reviews, a spotlight by the same writer, “Susan” of Joyfully Jay. The links follow.
Heart to Hart (Gaslight Mystery 1) Rating: 5 stars
Michael McCree works as a newspaper man. One day he meets Simon Hart, a grieving man who has come to place an obituary for his murdered business partner. It turns out Simon is a private investigator, and his dead friend was also his straight flat-mate—and the object of Simon’s unrequited love.
Michael sees something precious in Simon right away, and proceeds to first become Simon’s new roomer, then his new business partner, and finally his lover. Together, thanks to Michael’s insistent approach, they set out to find the murderer.
Michael makes his plans for Simon apparent from the start. Simon resists but, much to his own surprise, not particularly hard. But Michael, despite his jovial nature, has his own secrets that might jeopardize them both.
This absolutely captivating story, with steampunk elements without being steampunk but gaslight, takes place in a fictional 1920s town in Ireland with a culture, language, and traditions of its own. Each finely crafted and rich detail of this world-building artwork lures you in until you feel as though you’re actually there, in Dun Linden. This is a case of complete immersion into a skillfully created world. From little guttersnipes to snobbish uppity-muppities, every character encountered and every street walked on, they all breathe life into this alternate fantasy world of gaslight and murder mysteries.
The best part of this story is the friendship and camaraderie between Michael and Simon. No two men could be more different, yet they share common traits that begin to form the basis of their relationship. Michael appears as a charming, laidback rogue with a heart of gold, but he keeps many secrets buried beneath this happy-go-lucky facade. Simon, on the other hand, seems sullen, quiet, and reserved, but when his temper flares, all bets are off. And inside, his heart is capable of great gentleness and kindness.
The erotic tension between these two runs along the length of the story, so potent it practically leaps off the pages. Michael is a fountain of sexual experiences; Simon is a virgin who desired a straight man and is now lost as to what to do next. As the two begin their sensual tango, Michael is ready, willing, and able to give Simon everything, from pleasure and comfort, to brilliant insight and strength in every sense of the word. In his confusion, uncertainty and regret, Simon takes what Michael gives, always with remorse after, slowly starting to see a world of delight ahead of him as his heart thaws and his body sparks to life. To top this off, their mutual respect and admiration also grows, giving them something to fight for.
As far as murder mysteries go, this one is right up there, foul and sinister and, oh, so cruel. At first Simon sees the case as a last duty to his fallen comrade, but soon, as their investigation takes flight, it becomes a necessity. Their continued survival depends on it, as they’re thrown up against a criminal mastermind.
Another great thing about this story is the sex. Or more specifically, the sensuality that permeates each and every aspect of this tale. Michael is a sensual animal, and he’s determined to win Simon’s heart, body, and soul. For him, there is no doubt to who is his soul mate. His seduction of Simon is delicious and smoldering. Their scenes are fraught with sweet and gentle sensuality, and yet also rougher claiming as Michael temps Simon to admit who and what he is, which is a gay man.
Simply put, this tale is pure pleasure from start to finish. My head is filled with endless gushing praises and flattering comments. Highly recommended to all lovers of M/M erotic romance.
Sparring with Shadows (Gaslight Mystery 2) Rating: 5 stars
Simon Hart awakens after his first night of pure, unadulterated sex. He’s come face-to-face with his sexual desires, but now he needs to accept or reject this part of his character. Michael McCree is comfortable in his own skin, but Simon doubts whether he could ever be so carefree when it comes to his appetites. Yet he can’t resist Michael, who is so sure that he and Simon are meant to be, in and out of bed. Simon is confused and conflicted.
It doesn’t help his introspection any that their enemy, Chanda the Brown Man, has escaped from police custody. Simon and Michael set out to bring their foe back to justice. But as they travel through the seedy underbelly of Dun Linden, from a roaring twenties rough-and-tumble gay bar to the sewer tunnels beneath the town, they begin to realize Chanda might just be too dangerous for them to handle on their own.
The first book in the series was a whodunit murder mystery. This one, however, has less mystery and more action, danger, and interpersonal altercations. As their relationship has taken a turn toward deeper intimacy, Simon is hot and cold, either jumping on Michael’s bones or morosely turning down his affections. His mood swings, though, never repel Michael, who has sworn to be Simon’s all, from a protector to friend and beloved. Both men are strong, smart, and super-sexy, so they are in many ways a match made in heaven.
Chanda, their foe, is a tough adversary, a cunning man with an inner drive to match his evil genius. The threat he poses arises from violent death and from torture and rape, as his deep-seated perverse nature is slowly revealed to the reader. The best part of this aspect of the story, however, is the way Chanda is humanized and given a personality of his own, something to explain his motivations and justify his actions. In fact, his role in the events of the first book are shown in a completely different light. In essence, he becomes a worthy adversary to match wits against our heroic duo.
Like in the first book, the Irish town of Dun Linden in the roaring twenties is painted with vivid local colors and the occasional detailed descriptions. The focal point here is Paddy’s, an unsavory tavern for the undesirable elements of society, complete with safe meeting places for omi-palones, or homosexuals, and crowned by the Looker’s Lattie, a dark theater where rapt audiences can observe unspeakable acts of sexual degradation and how rough-traders ravage their victims through violent sex and rape. Naturally as a plot twist, soon Simon is threatened with this terrible fate.
In the end, though, this is very much Simon’s journey toward self-discovery. Losing his virginity was his first step. Now he has to decide if he has the strength of will to take another step into the unknown. For a gay man finding his role in the world, this theme perfectly reflects modern day struggles, and how little has changed. Simon can’t decide if he’s destined to be alone, if he can carve out a little sexual niche for an occasional tumble in the sack, or if he is, as Michael says, an omi-palone and that he should embrace his true being. Not an easy decision to make in any time period. In opposition to Simon, Michael is steadfast and confident, not once wavering in the certainty of who he is. This contrast works nicely to show well they fit together.
From tight-paced action to morbid mysteries, from acts of pure perversion to acts of pure love, this tale has got it all. Highly recommended to all lovers of M/M erotic romance, even if alternate historical worlds aren’t your thing.
To the Bone (Gaslight Mystery 3) Rating: 4.75 Stars
A new case is brought to private investigators Simon Hart and Michael McCree. A bunch of valuable paintings, plus an exceedingly valuable piece of artwork, have been stolen. What at first seems like a simple case of tracking down the culprits to their lair and recovering the items, soon the case evolves into a hunt for a city-wide criminal ring. To make matters worse, a mysterious man named Moshe sticks his nose into the case and in Michael and Simon’s personal relationship. Ditching him isn’t easy and he’s driving a wedge between them.
Simon is starting to accept his nature as a gay man, an omi-palone, and his relationship with Michael has taken a huge leap forward. Their multitude of sensual and sexual encounters form their most honest and basic method of communication, where neither can hide who they truly are at heart. Simon is still uptight and reserved, but he’s learning to relax and even take the initiative during sex. Michael is infinitely patient, accepting what Simon offers, never demanding more than the other man is comfortable giving. He’s such a dream man, patient and loving, honorable and roguish too.
Yet the two have little time each other as the new case preoccupies their time and attention. Their old foe, Chanda, makes a reappearance. As usual, he continues to be an intriguing personality, deep and complex, not easily reduced to a mere super villain. I wish his role had been greater, as he’s a fascinating adversary.
Instead we get Moshe, the weakest link in the story. Others may regard him differently, but I detested him. Perhaps that was a result of his meddling into my favorite literary pairing, Simon and Michael. Perhaps he was designed to appear as an unsympathetic character, as a man to hate, to stand in opposition to Simon and Michael, to show the ever-changing status of Simon and Michael’s relationship, and whether or not it can endure hardships and interested third parties.
As usual with O’Quinn, she shines in characterization, dialogue, and world-building. The writing is lyrically, breathtakingly descriptive, close to the skin and to the senses. Every single scene exudes heat, passion, intelligence, and action. The pace is swift, the plot has skillful intricacies slow to reveal themselves, and the erotic scenes are packed full of denied, yet undeniable passion. The town of Dun Linden is a living, breathing entity with a rich cultural heritage of its own, plus a dark, dangerous underbelly ripe with crimes and deviants.
And best of all, Michael and Simon are probably the most fully fleshed out characters I’ve ever come across, and they continue to surprise me with their realistic depth and their raw, passionate loving. The fact that we are given more new aspects about them with each new book shows how multi-faceted and realistic they are, how they continue to evolve as individuals and as a couple. As usual, I’m hungry and greedy for more.
I cannot recommend this first-rate series more. This sets the bar extremely high when it comes to splendid M/M erotic romance. All readers deserve to take a gander into the intriguing world of the Gaslight Mysteries, and I personally can’t wait for more sensual mysteries, with Simon and Michael at the heart of the intrigue.
Thin as Smoke (Gaslight Mystery 4) Ratng: 4.75 Stars
Michael McCree and Simon Hart continue as partners in the private investigation business. Their newest case puts them on the trail of missing boat engines. Along comes Samuel Dashiell Hammett, a Pinkerton agent, who shares a complicated past with Michael. Hammett has his own case to solve concerning bootleggers, and since he doesn’t know Dun Linden, he recruits Michael and Simon to aid him. But when their cases suddenly collide, all their lives are in danger—as is Michael and Simon’s tenuous relationship.
Thin As Smoke is the fourth book in the Gaslight Mysteries series. While it can be read as a standalone (the cases are all different in each book), the recommended approach is to read these in sequence.
It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of O’Quinn’s writing. She has a way of painting a picture with poetic descriptions that seem like she never uses the same word twice. I can’t help but be in awe of her talent. Her style of writing has a thick sensuous tension running throughout. Even if there’s no sex in a scene, the allusion is ever-present. In part, this is due to Michael and Simon, the heroes of these tales.
O’Quinn’s characterization is deep. Her men have a way of saying a lot by saying little, as the scene between Michael and Sam in the past, during a stakeout, attests. Michael and Simon have distinctly differing personalities. Where Michael is jovial and robust, a rogue in the truest sense, Simon clings to a polite facade, reserved and private. Yet both men are smart and strong, and their connection spans beyond the physical. But that sensual sphere they inhabit is so palpable and visceral it makes my heart beat faster until I’m almost out of breath. Simon holds much of himself secret while Michael wears his heart on his sleeve. Each time the two men come together, so much is left unsaid and undone that it tears my heart out of my chest.
Sam Dashiell Hammett is an intriguing addition to the side characters. In many ways, he is like smoke. Though he’s present almost throughout the book, I felt like I started to get him, and then the understanding slipped through my fingers. At the end, I wasn’t sure if I got a handle on him at all. And yet, his presence is unmistakeable. He might not dominate every scene he’s in, but one can’t forget he’s there. Especially since his past with Michael has an unfortunate habit of jumping to the foreground, in desperate need of a resolution.
Now, what is most notable in this tale is not the presence of Hammett, but the fact that the two cases separate Michael and Simon for a good chunk of the book. And yet it is their forced separation that shows how deep their commitment to each other is. They miss each other, and a profound sense of loss and longing affecting their job performance. It was sensual but in a new way. I’m ambivalent about whether or not that’s a good thing. Perhaps I’m simply being greedy after having spent so much time with these men already and knowing how perfect they are for each other. That’s why the distinct lack of sex scenes, which are some of the best aspects in this series, hit me like a freight train. I missed these sensual scenes because during those moments neither man could pretend to be something else and their truths were self-evident.
A fair warning in advance: In the beginning, there’s quite a bit of jumping between different timelines, the past and the present. It might be confusing to some. I wasn’t entirely sure if this was the best or only way these scenes could have been handled but they did reflect the present attitudes of Michael and Simon at Paddy’s, so I understood why they were handled so. Nonetheless, it’s undoubtedly best to read the book in one sitting to avoid feeling baffled or frustrated.
As far as mysteries go, there’s some delicious searching for clues and interviewing complex characters. Even the suspects and the bad guys have multifaceted portrayals. The puzzle is not exceedingly intricate (I figured it out about halfway through the book), but the manner with which the solution is given was fascinating indeed. This is not a whodunit sort of mystery, but more of a hard-boiled kind of chase in the rain.
A wonderful addition to the Gaslight Mysteries series, I recommend this to all lovers of sensual M/M romances, with a hoot and a thrill in their mystery dimension. Start from the first book, and like me, fall in love with Michael and Simon.
The first three reviews are all together on this link: http://joyfullyjay.com/2015/02/review-the-gaslight-mysteries-by-erin-oquinn-series-spotlight/
The last one was published about a week later, here: http://joyfullyjay.com/2015/03/review-thin-as-smoke-by-erin-oquinn/