Author: Josh Lanyon
Genre: Contemporary Murder Mystery/Romance
Length: Novel (68k words)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: A wonderful next installment of the Holmes & Moriarity series.
Giving screwball mystery a whole deadly new meaning.
Holmes & Moriarity, Book 2
A murderous fall down icy stairs is nearly the death of Anna Hitchcock, the much-beloved “American Agatha Christie” and Christopher Holmes’s former mentor. Anna’s plea for him to host her annual winter writing retreat touches all Kit’s sore spots—traveling, teaching writing classes, and separation from his new lover, J.X. Moriarity.
For J.X., Kit’s cancellation of yet another romantic weekend is the death knell of a relationship that has been limping along for months. But that’s just as well, right? Kit isn’t ready for anything serious and besides, Kit owes Anna far too much to refuse.
Faster than you can say “Miss Marple wears boxer shorts”, Kit is snooping around Anna’s elegant, snowbound mansion in the Berkshires for clues as to who’s trying to kill her. A tough task with six amateur sleuths underfoot. Six budding writers with a tangled web of dark undercurrents running among them.
Slowly, Kit gets the uneasy feeling that the secret may lie between the pages of someone’s fictional past. Unfortunately, a clever killer is one step ahead. And it may be too late for J.X. to ride to the rescue.
Warning: Contains one irascible, forty-year-old mystery writer who desperately needs to get laid, one exasperated thirty-something ex-cop only too happy to oblige, an isolated country manor that needs the thermostat cranked up, various assorted aspiring and perspiring authors, and a merciless killer who may have read one too many mystery novels.
All She Wrote is book two in Josh Lanyon’s excellent Holmes & Moriarity series about middle-aged, washed-up mystery author and reluctant amateur sleuth Christopher Holmes and his lover, fellow mystery author and former SFPD cop, J.X. Moriarity. Book one, Somebody Killed His Editor (reviewed by Wave here) introduced us to our heroes and was a super-duper mighty fine read. I had high expectations and hopes for this follow-up, and I was not disappointed. Lanyon’s flawless prose paired with the wonderfully snarky character of Christopher made this a winner for me. In my opinion, ASW is not a standalone, and one should pick up SKHE first before reading this one as Christopher and J.X.’s relationship is both explained and developed in that installment.
Set about three months after the end of SKHE, the story opens to Christopher yet again cancelling another weekend with J.X. His excuse this time? His mentor, former college professor/advisor and friend Anna has broken her ankle in a fall and has asked him to come to the Berkshires to facilitate the annual writing retreat she has on her property. J.X., knowing that Kit has issues and is having trouble committing to this fledgling relationship, lets him go with a “if you change your mind…” When Christopher arrives in on the snowy east coast, he finds out that Anna has ulterior motives: it seems she feels that someone is after her and she wants Christopher to do some snooping. Reluctantly agreeing, he begins the task of both preparing for the retreat and asking some questions. The suspects are aplenty and with most of them mystery writers, it is possible any of them could have done it. When a deadly accident puts Christopher in danger as well, J.X. hops a plane to rush to Christopher’s side, just in time for more mayhem. Nothing is as it seems and the final truth seems unbelievable.
I love these two protags. Though there are times I want to smack Christopher, and I don’t necessarily understand where he is coming from with all of his griping and moaning about his age and issues — he’s younger than I am! — I adore his “crotchety reclusive has-been” self. Lanyon writes him wonderfully; cynical, wry, sarcastic and full of inappropriate humor, Kit doesn’t just walk off a plane, he staggers. He obsesses about his age and aging, being out-of-shape, and his seemingly-dying career. He uses the age difference between him and J.X. and his other issues as a distancing mechanism, and J.X. calls him on it here, accusing him on acting thirty years older than he actually is. And poor Christopher, he must try and realign himself to everything J.X. wants and thinks of him, mostly that he is young, desirable and talented (and to branch out from who J.X. calls “Miss Busybody” ). J.X. treats him like a sexy contemporary, forcing Christopher to reevaluate his entire life and outlook. He opens up and lets J.X. in here — figuratively and literally — which takes him out of his comfort zone with surprising results. I thought this book was very much about Christopher’s growth; not that he has left his self-esteem issues behind, but he begins to see himself just a little differently and realizes that he may have enough to offer to keep J.X.’s interest.
And J.X…. He has really grown on me from SKHE to this one. Not that I didn’t not like him there, but we get to know him better and see him interact more with Kit here. I love his unguarded and obvious affection for Kit, how he takes care of him and allows for, is sensitive to and is mostly patient with all of Kit’s…issues. He is so onto Kit, knows him and his thoughts, and definitely has his number. Regardless if what he said in SKHE, he really has waited for Kit for ten years, and is determined to make it work by wearing Kit down emotionally.
One thing that I foresee being a continuing problem point in their relationship is Christopher’s professional jealousy of J.X., and Christopher himself knows it.
“J.X. Moriarity. The J.X. Moriarity?”
J.X. made self-deprecating noises.
I nearly said, No, the other one, but caught myself in time. I felt a real wave of self-contempt. Was I that insecure, that jealous? Because that was the kiss of death to any budding relationship right there.
It is a recurring theme, his envy and jealousy over what he perceives as better and/or more successful writers. It comes across not only in respect of J.X., but with a few of the writers he encounters in this story as well.
The theme of age differences between partners is also very prevalent here. Several of the couples (or would-be couples) have large age differences, making Christopher and X.J.’s five years seem like absolutely nothing. Just one more thing that showcases the differences between our heroes, J.X. thinks of them as essentially the same age, and Christopher thinks of the five years as a huge chasm between them.
It still gave me a start of surprise every time I caught sight of myself in a mirror or a window. Apparently clothes did maketh the man, and my clothes makethed me look less like a curmudgeonly recluse and more like a hip writer guy. The kind of guy I’d have loved to be when I was twenty—or even thirty. The kind of guy J.X. belonged with. The only problem being that I wasn’t that guy. Inside I was still a forty-year-old schlub writing cozy mysteries starring a spinster sleuth nobody wanted to read about, dumped by both my publisher and lover in the same year.
Make that two lovers. Because J.X. was past tense now too, and encouraging that was about the first thoughtful thing I’d done for anyone in a long time. Maybe his feelings were a little hurt, but J.X. deserved more than I could give him. He deserved better. Which he’d have been bound to figure out on his own before long.
The secondary cast is plentiful, and it reminds me once again that not all bad guys are necessarily villainous. And in this story, so many things besides people are characters. Buildings, architecture, rooms, furniture, the food, the outdoor conditions — snow and ice — all compete for the reader’s attention in a good way. I love how descriptive Lanyon can get, the terms he uses and how I can really visualize what is going on around the cast. Here, because Christopher is such a sarcastic and wry adorable shit, he can’t just describe what’s he’s seeing, but has to add commentary as well:
The bed itself looked like it had been modified from a sacrificial altar on some obscure Grecian isle. There were four dark wood Corinthian columns, leather panel inserts with brass studs on the head and footboards, and a canopy frame of wrought-iron ivy and grapes. Green velvet draperies dusted the glass-slick floor.
There was companion furniture, of course, but it seemed to exist merely to keep the bed from brooding over its change of fortune. Stephen King could have written a book about that bed. If I hadn’t been crazy before, I surely would be after a couple of nights beneath those curling grapevines. It was moot, since I obviously was crazy. How else to explain agreeing to go along with this loony plan of Anna’s?
A few other things:
Regarding the mystery element, though there were enough suspects to go around, I have to admit that I suspected the reveal pretty early on. It didn’t ruin it for me at all, and I was really interested to see it play out.
There were little things that tickled me, like Christopher reading “Adrien English’s latest” and how he has a love affair with food and doesn’t care if he gets fat ‘cause no one will ever see him naked again. Hell, his general snarkiness had me chuckling.
The smexxin is as you would expect in a Lanyon story — understated and marvelously written. Oh, and for some reason — it isn’t as if I am new to the genre and haven’t read smexxin before — there are a few times that J.X. says some variation of “I want to fuck you” that caused a jump in my gut in such a good way that doesn’t often happen now. It hit me as totally sexy and erotic.
Lastly, though it didn’t bother me in any way — I think just about anything Lanyon does is the cat’s meow — I have a feeling that there will be some readers who may find some perhaps…disappointing similarities to a few plot items in ASW to AE2 (A Dangerous Thing). Without going into details or spoilers, those of you who are AE fans will see what I am saying as you read it.
Fans of the author and of book one will not want to miss this wonderful next installment.