Final Atonement: A Doug Orlando Mystery

Title: Final Atonement: A Doug Orlando Mystery
Author: Steve Neil Johnson
Cover Artist: n/a
Publisher: Clutching Hand Books
Amazon: Final Atonement: A Doug Orlando Mystery
Genre: Gay Mystery
Length: 215 pages
Rating: 5 stars out of 5

A guest review by Sirius

Summary: This exciting and well-written mystery with appealing main character made me think about what was happening in the New York political arena, and how easily some tensions could erupt into violence.


The bestselling crime novels of New York life in the early nineties are back. Gruff, weary, gay Brooklyn Homicide cop Doug Orlando is facing his most shocking case: Rabbi Avraham Rabowitz lay in a pool of his own blood, a prayer shawl stuffed down his throat, and his beard shaved off. The question for Detective Orlando isn’t who hated the right wing religious sect leader—Rabowitz had been the open enemy of blacks, gays, pro-choice women, even fellow Jews. In a case that moves from the depths of the ghetto to the high-rise office of a real estate glamour-boy tycoon, the suspects come in every color and shade of belief. And unless Orlando can defuse a ticking time bomb of tension by nailing the killer, the melting pot of the city is going to melt down….


From what I understand this book was originally published in the early 1990s and reissued for Kindle few months ago. I stumbled upon it by complete accident (Amazon recommendations) and decided to try it since I love New York settings.

I really enjoyed the book, but as always, several warnings first. The book is not romance *at all*, it is first and foremost a mystery. The main character is in a permanent relationship and we get to see them a bit and read about them, and it is beautifully done, but we do not get to see them trying to establish the relationship, negotiating the relationship, basically what couples in romances do. Although we get to observe them facing some problems due to stress at Orlando’s job, they deal with those problems as many couples in long term relationships do — they eventually talk about it. And of course seeing Orlando and Stuart interact does not get a lot of page space. It is integral to understanding who Orlando is, but it is not a major storyline. I did so love what I got though — both guys are in their 40s and they are so sweet together. The most page space is devoted to Orlando’s job as a police officer and his investigation of the mystery in the blurb.

The mystery subplot is gritty and realistic. One of the reviews at Amazon (when I buy a book which I do not expect to review, I of course read reviews there) says that it was “ripped from the headlines” and I totally agree. I was not even living in New York yet when the events which may have become the basis for the plot happened, but I did recognise it (even if the writer pretty much just took it and, in my opinion brilliantly, fictionalized it).

I thought the writing is amazing. New York comes alive in the book, and the unfortunate tension and problems between different groups of the population comes up and, just as it is in reality, one can see how easy it is to provoke people to engage in violence. While it was an engaging read, it was not an escapist read; unfortunately the ugliness which happens in real life, in politics, was just recognised way too easily.

Orlando is a great character. I was glad that he does not choose to become a private investigator and remains a cop despite all the ugliness he faces at his job and surprisingly, being gay is only a secondary reason of why he faces so many problems from some of his colleagues. The main reason is because he did the right thing in the past, but by doing that he violated the unspoken code of conduct.  Unfortunately it sounded so believable. From what I understand, the author used to work in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, so I am going to assume that he interacted with police a lot and many of his descriptions were at least correct at a time the book was written, but it makes me so very sad. I also really appreciated that Orlando had to do a lot of investigative leg work as I always like when the investigator actually investigates. I also enjoyed how the author managed to portray Orlando as somebody who still cares about his job and about helping people without making him some sort of a saint. I thought the “work” part of his personality was just as well done as the portrayal of Orlando at home.

I thought the pacing was top-notch; the red herrings were just in the right places and the resolution was for me kind of unexpected, but at the same time I was thinking “oh of course I should have seen that, all the signs there right in front of me.” That’s when I feel that a mystery subplot is very well done — I did not feel cheated that the author just pulled the rabbit out of his hat at the end of the story.

There is a second book in the series on Amazon called False Confessions, which I also highly recommend.

Steve Neil Johnson
Steve Neil Johnson
4 years 1 month ago
Hi Sirius, Thank you so much for your review of my book FINAL ATONEMENT—I’m always so moved when people like my books, and I was touched by all the kind things you had to say. The books were originally published by Penguin as paperback originals in 1992 and (FALSE CONFESSIONS) 1993. At the time I thought I’d be writing Doug Orlando mysteries for the rest of my life, but even though they were big hits in gay and mystery bookstores, they didn’t catch on in the big chains, and Penguin dropped the series. I brought the books back into print… Read more »
Val Kovalin
4 years 2 months ago

Great review, Sirius! Do you ever crosspost reviews to It would be fun to meet up with you there to talk books.

4 years 2 months ago

Oh, this sounds like a book for me! Thank you for discovering it for us. 🙂

4 years 2 months ago

Sirius, thanks for discovering this. It sounds great and I have been casting about (unsuccessfully) for something new to read. Off to sample…


4 years 2 months ago

I wouldn’t mind giving them a go, if there’s an epub version, rather than the Kindle.

4 years 2 months ago

I read these books as used paperbacks in 2008 and loved them. I hope this rerelease means there’s about to be more on the way from this author. He was credited only as Steve Johnson when I read them and I couldn’t find out anything about him. The name seemed so generic that I thought it was a pen name. Now I see there’s some more info on him in the Amazon listings. I would love to see this series revived.

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