Monday, May 13, 2019

THE HANGED MAN'S GHOST, first in a paranormal mystery series enhanced by bisexual male lead


$4.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: three fat stars of five

The Publisher Says: Detective Fynn Adder is embarking on the case that will change his life forever. The ghosts of murder victims are leaving him clues, his drinking problem is out of control, and no matter how nepotistic the Chicago Police Department might be, there are some forces his family’s reputation can’t save him from.

Just a few years ago, Fynn’s longtime partner Robert was murdered and the case went unsolved. As he gets deeper into a new investigation, it becomes apparent that somehow the two cases are connected. To make matters worse, it’s clear to Fynn that forces beyond this world have come into play.

Forces like Internal Affairs agent Daniel Voight, who’s determined to make dirt stick to Fynn any which way he can. The only real bright points in Fynn’s day are when he’s with Jack, his unfortunately straight partner. Fynn is going to have to pull himself together—because if the dead don’t kill him, his family will.

Edition includes the short story "A Girl With Two Faces"

My Review: I love series books that allow me to immerse myself in their made-up world. I adore mysteries that enable me to feel that Bad Guys lose, fail, get punished. I am a complete pushover for gay guys as main characters, a sucker for paranormal stuff that makes common sense, EAGER to see bisexual men in relationships...this book, in short, should light every fire in my mental hypocaust.

And it didn't.

I made forty (40) Kindlenotes, which is either Very Very Good or Really Really Bad news. This time it was both. This is a first novel, and begins the ongoing Night Wars series. There's a downside to revising first books, as was done for this one after its first publisher disappeared. The later books add to the series canon; that can require first-book additions. The author says in the Author's Note that the changes are minor. I wonder if one result of this is the strange choppiness of the narrative. As my most WTF-inducing example, why is Fynn's father "Da" sometimes and "Pops" others? In general, people choose a name for their parents and stick to it. My sisters and I called our mother by different names, but never by each others' name for her. (I called her Mama, Sister Old called her Mommy, Sister Middle called her Mom.) It's not A Rule to have your characters do this, but it's a distraction from the story when they don't. I don't like to have to take a moment to wonder who is being addressed.

The feeling of being popped out of the narrative also comes when details arise and disagree with each other but are never reconciled. An example of this is the first murder. The body has three bullet holes, the witness says four shots were fired with great confidence, which attitude is pointed out by the author. And nothing ever reconciles the mismatch. That's frustrating to a seasoned mystery reader accustomed to watching for clues.

A more macro-level issue for me is the damn-near real time narration of (particularly) the first third of the book. Fynn goes to a bar, sits on a stool, talks to the bartender, reaches for his wallet, gets out his money, pays the bartender, gets off the stool, goes out the get what I'm talking about. It's purely a taste thing, not everyone is annoyed by this, but it isn't a narrative strategy I'd encourage anyone to use. Stage directions in a play aren't usually this detailed.

LOTS of coincidences and unsupported knowledge in here. How does Fynn know where his rescued almost-suicide is? Why is that individual's boss sitting there holding the kid's hand? And what astonishing luck that Fynn's in the same hospital, given that the city of Chicago fairly *bristles* with hospitals and people are triaged to different ones based on injury not on proximity. (This is true for all major metropolitan areas.) The sheer amazing stunning convenience of the existence of some blackmail materials used to manipulate Fynn is unaddressed. Why would these materials exist? In whose possession were they, how did they end up with the blackmailer, and WHY DOES NO ONE ASK THESE QUESTIONS in a POLICE STATION where chain of custody is an ingrained data point to be investigated?!

The latter issue is, I suppose, dealt with by the nature of the series: Paranormal. As in magical, as in manipulating the material world accepted. But this event occurs before the outing, so to speak, of the book's true nature. I can't accept that a cop, especially a senior cop like Fynn's boss, wouldn't bring this up despite the...spooky...nature of the blackmailer. He wants to save Fynn, a good cop from a cop family, from disgrace and dismissal.

Now for the biggest problem I had, and one that came close to closing the book to me for good: Jack, Fynn's cop-partner, serves a fresh-out-of-rehab drunk a drink, *overcomes the drunk's objection to being served a drink*, and proceeds to ply the drunk with four more.


It's especially upsetting as this is the same person who expresses loving, tender concern for Fynn's recovery before and after this occurs. It's never mentioned that's realistic!...Jack never asks forgiveness or makes amends. This would be a huge, huge issue in an alcoholic's trust inventory. As would the relationship between Jack and Fynn after this occurs. Not cool. Not realistic.

I hate smoking so I hate the mentions of Fynn lighting up. Personal peeve.

Anyway, from all the above, the question arises: Why'd you bother? What kept you reading, since this isn't a one-star rage review? Because the world the author's building appeals to me, like Charlaine Harris's paranormals appeal to me. I love the world-unseen-by-muggles trope. I grew up gay! In 1970s Texas! Of course I love unnoticed realities, I lived in one. And I understand viscerally the desire of the inhabitants of that world to be left the fuck alone to live as they are. The urgency of adopting a cover story. The skill at verbal deflection. The sensitivity to vibes, to the initiate's gaze identifying Our Own. This book strums my strings the right way in this regard.

I enjoy the Catholic parents of a gay kid making absolutely no waves about his sexuality. Their overbearing controlling behaviors are utterly unrelated to Fynn's man-lovin' just to his whoring around and drinking. Any parent of an addict will look at that and say, "that's exactly it, I love my child and want the self-destruction to stop!" Note the silence about gayness. Refreshing to see religious people portrayed as loving, nurturing, supportive parents. (If a tad on the meddlesome side.)

And last, most importantly, in fact crucially to my pleasure in the read, is the fact that the author dropped two...two!...w-bombs. One of which I felt was appropriate to the situation and was cheekily funny.

Anyone who can make ME, the arch-wink-hater, approve of a w-bomb, is a wizard and deserves a chance to make my eyeblinks focus on their work.

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