Title: Bittersweet Candy Kisses (All Petit Morts Stories)
Author: Josh Lanyon
Cover Artist: Jordan Castillo Price
Publisher: JCP Books LLC
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary M/M, mystery
Length: novelette (17,200 words, 66 PDF pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Summary Review: Should Ethan go for what’s behind door No. 1 (Michael) or door No. 2 (Karl)?
When Michael Milner opens a dojo across the street from Ethan’s bookstore, Red Bird Books, he makes ripples not only because he’s a newcomer in the small desert town of Peabody, but because half his face has been horribly scarred. How? Ethan isn’t sure. Michael’s not exactly the chatty type, which only adds to his allure.
Michael may not be the most sociable person in Peabody, but he’s quick to defuse a tense situation when Ethan finds himself cornered by Karl Hagar, fellow writing group member, and creepy author of even creepier serial killer tales. Ethan’s sister Erin is convinced that Karl himself is responsible for the bodies turning up lately in the desert—after all, don’t all the advice books say, “Write what you know?”
While Erin’s idea seems pretty far-fetched, Ethan does have to wonder why Karl’s eerie focus has landed squarely on him.
Michael owned a dojo or martial arts school in the mini mall in the small town of Peabody, near Ethan’s bookstore Red Bird Books and Coffee. The “coffee” half was run by Ethan’s fraternal twin Erin who loved to create different brews and concoctions that never tasted right, in fact they were downright awful but she kept trying. Michael was not particularly friendly but he showed up twice every day for coffee and a fruit smoothie, and on Fridays he usually bought a book from Ethan who was smitten and dying to know him better.
Ethan found out from Chance who owned Sweets to the Sweet candy store that Michael had been in Special Ops in Afghanistan, but he didn’t seem willing to share any more information and suggested that Ethan should ask Michael if he wanted to find out how he came by the injuries to one side of his face. Of course Ethan wasn’t going there since he and Michael had barely exchanged 10 words in the six weeks he had been coming by for his coffee and books. Ethan was inexperienced and didn’t know what to say to make it clear that he was interested. He didn’t even know if Michael was gay, although Chance hinted that there was no wife in the picture. How does an innocent like Ethan find out if the man he wants shares his interest?
Ethan was hoping to be a writer some day and hosted a few other ‘would-be” writers in the book store once a week, the Coffee Clutch writing group, which included Karl Hagar who wrote the most bloody, gruesome murder scenes starring twins that had an uncanny resemblance to Erin and Ethan. Karl was blond and handsome, two years younger than Ethan, and although he knew him from school they had had no contact with each other so he was surprised when Karl expressed interest in becoming a member of the Coffee Clutch writing group. He should have been attracted to him rather than Michael but there was something about Karl that left him cold. When she read some of Karl’s writing Erin was convinced that he was a killer. Ethan didn’t believe her but Karl’s stories were too realistic to be just his imagination, weren’t they? Also, there were three recent murders in the vicinity of Peabody which had the police stumped but Erin knew for sure that the killer was Karl, and while he discounted Erin’s theory Ethan had a few doubts.
One evening, long after the writers’ group had left, Ethan went outside to put out the garbage and was surprised to find Karl waiting in the alley. To say he was scared was to put it mildly since Karl didn’t seem to have any valid reason for being there so late at night, but just when Ethan was trying to decide what to do and whether he should scream for help even though Karl hadn’t threatened him – yet – Michael showed up and he left. Seizing the opportunity, Ethan invited Michael out for a drink and to his surprise he accepted.
The next night Karl drove to his home and Ethan became really freaked out because he lived far enough away from Karl’s house, so why was he there, was Erin right? But before he could assess the danger Michael showed up at his house and the mystery deepened.
As usual whenever I read a mystery by Josh Lanyon I’m entertained by all the clues and I put on my detecting hat to see if I could solve the crime before the killer is revealed. In Sort of Stranger Than Fiction there’s the added dimension of Ethan’s attraction to someone who could be a serial killer because he didn’t really know anything about Michael other than he fought in Afghanistan. Although Karl seemed threatening that could be a red herring, but I couldn’t be sure because Lanyon is pretty crafty about sprinkling clues. What about the possibility of a romance? Since Ethan knew nothing about men he seemed clueless.
If you have ever read a book by this author you know that above all his strength is in his characterizations and in Sort of Stranger Than Fiction he demonstrates why I love his characters. There are many of them in SOSTF and they aren’t just there for set decoration but play important roles, starting with Chance who always manages to get and impart information through the simple strategy of plying others with chocolate. Erin, Ethan’s twin was sweet but she had a bite, and who was Michael, really? What was the mystery about his mangled face? And what of Pete McCarthy who hated Ethan because he had screwed up a valuable financial deal that Pete wanted. Could he still be holding a grudge? These and other answers will only be revealed when you indulge your sense of adventure and put your detecting skills to the test by reading Sort of Stranger Than Fiction.
SOSTF is another wonderful entrant into the Petit Morts series and it adds to Chance’s mystique, as more layers of his character are exposed. Each book takes Chance in a different direction and Josh Lanyon does what he does best – he writes with a skill that makes readers into loyal fans who can’t wait for his next adventure into the dark side. You definitely want to pick up Sort of Stranger Than Fiction.