Title: Blood Red Butterfly
Author: Josh Lanyon
Cover Artist: Faith L.
Publisher: self published – Just Joshin
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary M/M/YAOI
Length: Novella/92 PDF pages
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
Review Summary: Your enjoyment of this book will depend on your expectations. A great effort by the author in a new-to-him genre, which worked for me.
Despite falling in love with aloof manga artist Kai Tashiro, Homicide Detective Ryo Miller is determined to break the alibi Kai is supplying his murderous boyfriend–even if it means breaking Kai with it.
One of the reasons I love Josh Lanyon’s writing is that he is constantly trying new things and genres. Several years ago he wrote his first historical (World War I) novella Out of the Blue, which is still one of my favourite military books today. He has since written fantasy and paranormal stories and keeps evolving and developing his skill as a writer, which broadens his readership outside of the murder mysteries for which he is best known, and I always look forward to his new offerings. However, when his latest, a YAOI/BL manga-inspired story landed in my in-box I was shocked because this was a genre I didn’t think he would ever tackle, since Asian or eastern MCs are far removed from his usual focus on western styled stories.
The blurb is concise but gives a pretty good idea of the plot. When the story opened I didn’t find the main characters the typical likeable nice guys, in fact I didn’t much like either MC as I thought they were both too cocky, irrational, slick and full of themselves. However as the story progressed and I got to know them and their vulnerabilities were revealed I saw beyond the masks they wore, although I didn’t fall for them until the end.
Randall (Ryo) Miller is a complex, flawed character, a police detective whose latest case involves the vicious murder of an elderly woman. He was sure he had the perpetrator Mickey Torres locked up forever until his alibi for the night of the murder turned up – Kai Tashiro, aka The Ice Princess, who had blown off Ryo on several occasions at a local gay bar. Not only was Ryo’s case in jeopardy if he couldn’t hold the suspect, but he was upset that the man he wanted so much was willing to provide an alibi for scum like Torres, the presumed killer. He was determined to break the alibi, and if that meant he got to spend time with Kai whom he couldn’t stay away from, all the better.
Kai had spent his childhood until the age of eleven with his parents in Montana. He was only one eighth Japanese, but when his parents died in a house fire and he was orphaned, his great-great-grandfather who was a very traditional Asian man, took him in. His life changed as he tried to do everything he could so that his grandfather would love him, even changing his English name to Japanese. Living in both eastern and western worlds formed the person he became as an adult, very complicated, someone who made compromises to please his elderly relative, but the price eventually proved to be too high.
Ryo’s career conflicted with his personal life. By day he was a police detective solving crimes, in the closet except for his partner, but by night he frequented gay bars looking for hook ups. When he met Kai he was attracted to him, but Kai didn’t want anything to do with Ryo and when Kai alibied Mickey Torres that gave Ryo the excuse he needed to ingratiate himself with the man.
While on one level the novella was successful and I enjoyed it, I felt that the YAOI manga inspired aspect needed to be developed further to enhance its credentials in the genre. There was even a story within the story of Kai as a mangaka and novelist which helped to improve some of the YAOI cultural elements, and the characters did act in many ways like some characters I have read about in Japanese boy love stories, but manga is very visual and gets its beauty and authenticity from the pictures which accompany the dialogue: the written word without the pictures doesn’t have quite the same impact.
Ryo initially started out as quite the tough detective, investigating the suspect and the murder, but later his focus shifted more to protecting Kai, and the investigation seemed to be secondary. I also expected to see a lot more of his partner Eddie Mayer helping with the investigation but his character almost disappeared later in the book.
Josh Lanyon writes mostly novellas and he has the art down to a science. His prose and dialogue are delightful and his characters are always three dimensional which is the case here. The difference between a JL novella and someone else’s most of the time is that every aspect of his books is well crafted and the MCs do what they are supposed to do – entertain the reader and keep him or her guessing until the very last page of a mystery, also the endings never seem to be rushed. In this book the plot is both a mystery and a manga inspired love story, which meant that one had to take precedence over the other as the word count of Blood Red Butterfly was a trifle short to cover both bases satisfactorily. So if you’re expecting every minute detail of a murder investigation you may be a tad disappointed because the author concentrated more on the love interest in the latter part of the book. However his timing is impeccable and the last scene is as good a shoot ’em up exciting, heart-stopping conclusion as I have read recently.
I thought that using a YAOI BL manga theme as a backdrop to a murder mystery was very ballsy on the part of Josh Lanyon, especially as this is his first book since his return from sabbatical. However, if you’re a manga purist you may find a few story elements to criticize, but I don’t pretend to be very knowledgeable about this genre although I have read my share of YAOI BL stories. What I liked was that there was a western flavour to the story as the MCs embraced their heritages – the American and Japanese – and had their share of personal problems and conflicts.
As in most of this author’s books, Blood Red Butterfly is told from the 1st person POV, in this case Ryo’s. We only get to know Kai through Ryo’s eyes, which is never perfect as some readers don’t get to really know the second MC in a more inexperienced author’s hands, but Lanyon does this better than most writers who use the technique. Many times I prefer1st person because it gives readers a limited viewpoint, which is what one normally gets in RL, so I find it relatable. I read a few reviews of this book just before posting and the reviewers were critical about different aspects of this book – mainly questioning the authenticity of the manga elements, the investigation and so on, but I applaud Lanyon for trying something different. He may not get everything in the genre right but he sure gives readers his best efforts. Maybe next time he’ll try horror hint. 🙂
I thought overall the mystery worked well and the MC’s HEA seemed believable. The plot apparently follows the YAOI tradition of unresolved endings and then wrapping up the loose ends in an epilogue. In case you’re wondering, yes there’s sex, more than one would expect in a JL novella. 🙂