Author: Josh Lanyon
Genre: Historical M/M, murder/mystery
Length: Novella (94 pages)
Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
Don’t talk to strangers, young man—especially the dead ones.
It’s the Roaring Twenties. Skirts are short, crime is rampant and booze is in short supply. Prohibition has hit Little Egypt, where newspaperman David Flynn has come to do a follow-up story on the Herrin Massacre. The massacre isn’t the only news in town though.
Spiritualist medium Julian Devereux claims to speak to the dead—and he charges a pretty penny for it. Flynn knows a phoney when he sees one, and he’s convinced Devereux is as fake as a cigar store Indian. But the reluctant attraction he feels for the deceptively soft, not-his-type Julian is as real as it gets. Suddenly Julian begins to have authentic, bloodstained visions of a serial killer, and the cynical Mr. Flynn finds himself willing to defend Julian with not only his life, but his body.
It’s 1922. David Flynn was a tough reporter who believed in facts. When he arrived in Herrin aka Little Egypt to visit Amy, the widow of his old friend Gus whom he had not seen since Gus’s death, his purpose was to write a story one year after the murders of 21 Lester Mine Company strikebreakers. The murderers, all of whom were miners with strong Union ties, had been acquitted twice, shocking everyone, and the Crown had not pursued any further trials because it was clear that the verdict would be the same. Rough justice! No one in Little Egypt wanted to talk about the murders – they were only interested in Prohibition. The ministers were in bed with the KKK to lobby the government to stop the bootleggers and their roadhouses. It seemed all of these law abiding people felt that the Ku Klux Klan was their only solution to stopping the bootleggers who were doing a thriving business, but those same law abiding folks enjoyed the roadhouses that they were demanding publicly should be shut down. Who would have thought that in those times the KKK had legitimacy and its members were actually welcomed by the people of Herrin? Flynn’s assignment to write about the strikebreakers’ murders which seemed straightforward enough when he set out from New York, paled in comparison to a much bigger emerging story, that of several ritualistic murders of young women by a serial killer.
On the surface Julian Devereux was the typical charlatan who pretended to talk to the dead and charged a pretty penny for his sold-out performances every night at the Opera House where he was billed as The Magnificent Belloc. Most of the locals believed in him because once in a while he came up with unbelievable and insightful predictions that later proved to be true. The first time Flynn saw Julian at Amy’s boarding house he wanted no part of him, but Julian’s feelings were quite the opposite – he made it clear that he knew Flynn was gay and he wanted him. David and another temporary resident, a travelling medical supplies salesman named Casey Lee were attracted to each other, even spending an evening together at one of the despised roadhouses and having some fun of the carnal kind later. However this didn’t last long because David was drawn to Julian despite his better judgment; he couldn’t resist that effeminate body and those eyes which called to something in him in the wasteland of Little Egypt, a place where they could be tarred and feathered or worse for expressing their feelings for each other. As they spent more time together David realized that he was falling in love with a man whose career he loathed, but the man was so defenseless that he could not resist him. In the midst of their brief affair the murders continued to unfold on a parallel track.
As always, Josh Lanyon’s characters are the strength of his stories and Julian appealed to me because not only was he physically ill and thus vulnerable to his grandfather, a scoundrel and crook who used him for his own purposes, but he showed unexpected strength and courage at times and had no difficulty pursuing David when his attentions seemed to be unwelcome. He was illiterate because his very educated grandfather refused to have him schooled in the basics of reading and writing and stole all the money he made from his appearances as The Magnificent Belloc so he had very few, if any, options to change the direction of his life. He had no one to represent his interests other than David Flynn who was conflicted for many reasons, including the fact that spiritualism was a foreign concept to him and also because exposure of their affair could have horrible consequences. David was a very different character to Julian, he was from a well off family, with a college degree that led to a career in journalism. He had been in the armed forces and fought in the war where he had fallen in love with another soldier named Paul who was shot to death, and he had not recovered from the tragedy when he met Julian. Conflicting loyalties to Paul and his unwanted feelings for Julian made him pursue Casey Lee who looked a bit like Paul,but any hopes of erasing Julian didn’t work so he had to adjust his disbelief in Julian’s abilities as a medium.
I must admit that I had a bit of difficulty with some aspects of the plot especially the big reveal, not because it wasn’t plausible or I didn’t guess the murderer because the clues were there, but the end was unexpectedly abrupt and violent and while it didn’t seem logical to me it did make sense in a weird sort of way. I can’t say much more because of spoilers but perhaps you will understand my comments after you read the book. There were many characters thrown into the mix to confuse the unwary amateur sleuth which is always a lot of fun, and when the murderer is revealed you will either say “I knew it all along” or slap yourself for not being smart enough to figure it out. Selfishly, I prefer Josh Lanyon’s murder mysteries to be novel length which provides more time for plot and character development – compressing all the information and action into a 94 page novella seemed to lose something in the final sequences even though they were exciting.
The Dark Farewell is a very enjoyable tale and whether or not you’re a fan of this author it will keep you on the edge of your seat as more women are murdered and the clues seem to lead nowhere. Spiritualism is a new area for Lanyon so fans will have something different to explore as David struggles with his skepticism about fakery and his emerging belief that Julian could be the real deal. Definitely recommended!
The Dark Farewell is available from Samhain Publishing on March 5