For your reading pleasure here are two views on this series, sometimes similar, sometimes divergent which is what opinions are all about. Enjoy
As promised, I spent the weekend reading the three Adrien English books –
Adrien English Mysteries: Fatal Shadows and A Dangerous Thing
The Hell you Say
To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. I actually loved the mysteries which for an aficionado of the genre were not too tough to solve before the big ‘reveal’ but there was enough ‘degree of difficulty’ to make it a very satisfactory exercise. I had to work really hard at discarding all the false trails and red herrings thrown out by the author.
Before I get to the characterizations in these books which apparently are what’s causing a lot of the furore about the series, I want to give a brief synopsis of the books for those people who haven’t read them.
This is a mystery/suspense series and the focus of the stories is Adrien English, a gay bookseller, writer and amateur sleuth who has a knack for getting himself into dangerous situations from which he has to be rescued, most of the time by his on-again off-again boyfriend Detective Jake Riordan. Adrien is a beta type personality which just begs for a tall, handsome, strong, hunky alpha male who makes his bad heart race. His dream man is Jake who hits all the right notes and rings his bell and he personifies everything for which Adrien has been looking. When these books were first published in 2000, 2002 and 2006 by Gay Men’s Press no one apparently had any problems with the characterizations until they were updated, repackaged and published by LooseId in 2007 and romance readers found them. Since then the series has built up quite a following. Not every fan (or fanyon) likes Jake’s character and they are very vocal in decrying his treatment of Adrien; some fans are even demanding Jake’s head, which of course will never happen because he is a lightning rod and part of the reason for the popularity of these books. Sure he’s flawed but so is Adrien.
Now here are my observations. I think that some of the fans have lost sight of the fact that Josh Lanyon is writing a series. The basic tenet of a series is that it is a continuing story line over several books with familiar characters making their way through many adventures before the author writes “The End” and ties it up nicely with a red bow. There are two types of series – the first is similar to The Adrien English Mysteries which means that the two main characters will evolve, their relationship will change, they may or may not move on to other lovers, people may die and a whole host of new adventures will be dreamed up by the author to ensure our continued interest in the next book. These adventures will take place over a period of years before our two heroes can walk hand in hand into the sunset for their HEA, if ever.
In the meantime back at the ranch Jake and Adrien are behaving true to their personality types with big, butch, sometimes sensitive Jake being mean to gentle, vulnerable, smart and acerbic Adrien. There are several clues to Jake’s personality which seem to have eluded or been ignored by romance readers. The first one is that Jake from the very beginning is not happy about being considered gay which he regards as an abnormal lifestyle. He tells Adrien that he has never had a “healthy satisfying relationship” which he says is a contradiction in terms. He also informs him “I’ve got nothing to offer you,” “you knew the score going in” and later he points out to him that he’s not his type; when asked what his type was he says “a girl”. He definitely is on the “down low” and indicates on more than one occasion that he wants a ‘normal’ life with the wife and 2.5 children, a real marriage or words to that effect! Obviously Adrien can’t be a wife and bear children so Jake dates women. But clearly he cares very much for Adrien. He killed a perp. for him and almost lost his shield over it so we know that he is not as bad as he is painted. Adrien says at one point “I didn’t know you cared” and Jake’s response was “the hell you didn’t.”
Jake is a dichotomy – very affectionate in bed where he is an unselfish lover however he never goes out with Adrien because he doesn’t want his sexuality to be questioned. At times I feel really sorry for Adrien’s character, for example when Jake does not kiss him until much later in the series I guess because he feels that it’s too gay to kiss another man. Jake is obviously very conflicted but I think both protagonists are brilliantly drawn and I would hate to see the integrity of the series compromised by changes to the characterizations. I admit it, I have a soft spot for Jake who is full of contradictions – but they are both flawed characters and that is what makes them so interesting!
If there are two things I know about Josh Lanyon’s writing from reading Man, Oh! Man it’s that he believes readers fall in love with characters – “a strong character can carry a weak story” he said, and “if they don’t care about the characters nothing else matters.” He also likes a lot of internal and external conflict in his stories. So we have both in this series in spades – great characterizations and apparently more conflict than some readers can handle.
There’s an inevitability to the story arc – only someone wearing blinders can’t see where this is headed. I can’t say too much without giving away some key plot points in these books but I will say that the author has not made any compromises to date with these two characters. I’m sure there must have been a lot of pressure to make Jake a “kinder, gentler person,” a teddy bear 🙂 in fact in order to win over this key demographic of romance readers and I’ll be watching and reading future adventures of Adrien and Jake to see if Lanyon caves. Do I like Jake’s character? No I don’t. I think he is unnecessarily harsh and perhaps over the top in some situations especially in The Hell You Say but he fits the profile of what this particular alpha male is supposed to be and act like in certain circumstances. His treatment of Adrien is authentic and although I wanted to smack him on many occasions, I understood his motivations (and he did get his comeuppance for what he did to Adrien). He does show his feelings from time to time so he is not a caricature – he is sensitive about his weight like most of us yet he eats as if every meal is his last. He is concerned about Adrien’s health, takes care of him and cooks for him when they are together, and he is always running to his rescue, at times to the detriment of his job.
But there is one area where I have a major sticking point with Jake – he dates women, which is consistent with his character, but he has unprotected sex with Adrien at the same time as he is doing so apparently with his female partner. That, to me, is reprehensible. Of course Adrien is not blameless for letting this happen and loving Jake is no excuse for not insisting on condoms (he is aware that Jake is having sex with women). But having said that, I don’t know for sure that Jake has not taken the usual precautions because the series is narrated from Adrien’s POV.
Do I understand the reactions that some readers have towards Jake’s character? Of course I do. Do I share them? No I don’t. Do I want to see a kinder, gentler Jake? No, because for the series to be authentic and maintain its integrity his character can’t change in mid stream unless some significant event occurs to transform him and alter his philosophy on life. I expected to have the same visceral reaction towards Jake as most of the fans of the series but I didn’t. Adrien is obviously the more sympathetic character and we don’t get a lot of information on Jake’s motivations except for brief glimpses which don’t exactly endear him to the readers. On the other hand Adrien is also the author of his own misfortunes to some degree and you wonder from time to time “what the hell was he thinking?”
Adrien’s character and looks appear to be the usual stereotype of a gay man in movies and books and I wonder whether this is deliberate. Is Adrien Josh’s alter ego? I’m sure the similarities have not escaped his attention and he is too smart not to want to yank our chain from time to time.
I really enjoyed this look back at the first three books in the Adrien English series and I’m looking forward to Death of a Pirate King to see how Josh Lanyon will extricate himself from where he left these two characters at the end of The Hell You Say. The writing is what one would expect from Lanyon – terse, tight, spare and clipped prose and we know that his world building is brilliant. As to the pacing, what can I say? Does “just right” cover it? One final comment to the “romance” readers of the Adrien English Mysteries, this is a mystery and suspense series people, with a romantic sub plot but it is not strictly a romance, at least not yet. There will be murders most foul, faithless lovers who get knocked off, sex, drugs and rock and roll and to expect the protagonists to fall madly in love and live happily ever after is a bit unrealistic – let’s wait until the series wraps up, otherwise whatever will Josh Lanyon have to write about? I’ll end this by quoting from Fatal Shadows “people don’t see you. They see their perception of you. They see what they want to see.” This comment I think could just as easily refer to Jake and Adrien as well as to the fans’ perception of the series. I enjoy Josh Lanyon’s writing because he doesn’t dumb down his stories – he writes “intelligent” books.
For all the Jake haters I would like to direct you to an interview between Jake and his creator, Josh Lanyon here
Here’s a preview that was posted for the soon to be released Death of a Pirate King
And now for another opinion of this series
Mary M – Roving Reporter and Commentator
I finished my AE marathon about three…make that four hours ago. Since then, I’ve been brooding, thinking, analyzing, mulling over the books and trying to put some order in my thoughts. There is much than can be said about this series but I have barely an hour to write them down. So I’m going to write as it comes to me. Sort of.
I came to this series having a vague idea what it was about. I knew Adrien English was a gay bookseller and part-time amateur sleuth with a knack for stumbling upon bodies. I knew that Lisabea was crazy about this series. I knew it was more or less the crown jewel of Josh Lanyon’s popular booklist. And I knew that by the end of book 3, more or less everyone loathed Adrien’s love interest cop Jake Riordan, without apparently being able to give up on him. It sure was enough to make a girl curious.
I can say without a doubt that I enjoyed each of the instalments in that series more than any other standalone story by Lanyon I’d read so far. The fact that it’s a series probably plays a big part in that. You tend to get attached to a character or a world more easily if you know you’ll see them again. And Adrien English is a very easy hero to love. Adrien is, simply put, a “normal” guy. He’s good-looking, but not overly so. He makes mistakes. He is human in his fears and reactions. He hasn’t had luck in his relationships, but keeps going courageously. He is also a good man, a species too rare, loyal and with an old-fashioned sense of honor when the people he cares for are concerned. And while he might be gay, there’s nothing girly about him. You’d like to be friends with him. Plus, he has a bookstore and a classical CD collection to die for.
That Adrien is a mystery buff and gay aspiring writer makes you wonder how much the author put of himself in this character. But that is probably none of my business. 😀
Adrien is also clever and stubborn, ideal qualities for the amateur sleuth. Because while the overall story arch has a strong romantic flavour, the book’s main emphasis is mystery. And Mr Lanyon makes a nice job of building them up. They are good enough to make me wish I had taken more time to savour them, but there’s no helping that. The plots are varied, detailed and well-set, with no obvious holes that would jerk you out of the story. In all three cases, I didn’t find the culprit before Adrien did. Obviously, Miss Marple I am not, but I still give kudos to Josh for making it so the solution was never an obvious one.
The intensity level is rather high and keeps rising as the story unfolds, but Adrien’s ability to see the ridicule and humour in even the most dire situations confers a lightness to the tone. Through him we discover new facts and are introduced to a varied cast of characters with a myriad of possible motives and secrets that may or may not have to do with the crime (s). Mr Lanyon makes a good job of developing them, villains, bystanders and regulars alike, with a wit and economy of description that is nevertheless effective. The only writing device that annoyed me was how in the first book, Adrien kept information from the reader, giving the story a MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD feel, However, having the two sequels at hand, I knew it couldn’t be the case so it simply felt annoying and unjustified.
But the main reason that kept me reading was to know what would happen between Adrien and his love interest, cop Jake Riordan.
Jake, Jake, Jake. Jake has to be the most self-deluded and sexually conflicted character of M/M fiction I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve read just about everything I could find involving men who thought they were straight and ended up being gay. I knew going in that Jake would become the focus of Adrien’s love life and it was thrilling to see the friendship between them develop, grow, become something more. But it was just as obvious that in the long term, their relationship was a disaster waiting to happen.
Jake is big, blond, handsome with a killer body, a total alpha male. He likes fishing, eating red meat, hates ties and is often grumpy, a real man’s man, if that isn’t a bad pun in the case of a secretly gay character. Or, as he puts it, someone who has sexual desires for people of the same sex. If possible, Jake is in the closet’s closet. He despises himself so much for his homosexual urges that in denial, he will hurt Adrien, badly, cruelly. After finishing THE HELL YOU SAY, I can easily understand why everyone is so angry with him. Yet I cannot find it in me to hate him. I feel he is more to be pitied, because despite his actions, it is obvious he cares for Adrien. There is something tender and poignant in their interaction, Adrien’s silent yearning and Jake’s reluctant yet irrepressible answer. Jake knows he has found someone good that could make him happy, if only he let himself be what he is, but he can’t accept it.
Now I’m worrying about what Josh has in store for book 4, DEATH OF A PIRATE KING, due in September. At the end of THE HELL YOU SAY, the future looked very grim for the couple. Jake said and did terrible things and I don’t know if the damage can be fixed. But I am an optimistic person so I want to believe it can. And it better be, because frankly, I can’t imagine them with anyone else and I’m not sure I’d still be interested if the upcoming sequel doesn’t include Jake in it, at least in some way. I saw the most loathsome characters redeemed in books in the past, so I wish very hard it happens to Jake as well. A man who likes white and dark chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce can’t be hopeless.
And that’s a wrap