Blood Red Butterfly

Title: Blood Red Butterfly
Author: Josh Lanyon
Cover Artist: Faith L.
Publisher: self published – Just Joshin
Buy link: (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.

The Blurb

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.

The Review

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. 🙂

Definitely recommended.


I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball


    • Sorry Crys. I should have used the term “boys love” rather than the abbreviation BL. For someone who doesn’t read manga or YAOI it would be strange, probably just as much as TSTL which we use all the time in M/M. 🙂

  • Hi Wave, I do read Yaoi (not that much, but I do read it), and it all depends on the story – some of the stories I read were very sophisticated IMO. It is just that art is just as important part of the story as the words (or probably more important).

    I think where this story succeeded the most and could be compared to Yaoi the most is because it was so very visual, it is as if the writer painted a picture with the words.

    I was seduced by the writing, I did connect to the characters, actually I think bad guy’s (or is he a bad guy?) “do the right thing” thing before death was also one of the features of yaoi/ish novels. That I did encounter and more than once.

    Where the story failed for me is in the mystery solution. I thought it was clumsy, I thought it was not clear, in fact I was so irritated that the moment I stopped reading I started running around asking random readers questions to see if I missed something important because I was not sure whether the murderer was actually the murderer. I do not think that at the end of the mystery story we are supposed to question whether the bad guy was the one who committed the murder or not and I was not sure at all. And what Sunne mentioned was also strange.

    But as you said, I do applaud him for trying new things and because I enjoyed the characters and liked their chemistry I still gave the story four stars. Great review.

    • Hi Sirius

      I was seduced by the writing, I did connect to the characters, actually I think bad guy’s (or is he a bad guy?) “do the right thing” thing before death was also one of the features of yaoi/ish novels. That I did encounter and more than once.

      You’re correct that at times the presumed perpetrator of a crime does seem to commit suicide at the end of some YAOI novels. I’ve read those types of books too – maybe it’s a genre thing (or not, I don’t want to get into trouble again). However maybe I’m reading too much into what I’ve read in some of these books.

      As for the mystery, what I said in the review was that there seemed to be more of an emphasis on the budding affair between the MCs and less on the mystery, so there wasn’t the finite conclusion with lots of clues and a denouement at the end with a confession by the killer. There was no explicit explanation in the “who-done-it” part of the book for obvious reasons (I don’t want to say more because of spoilers) but to me it was clear who was the killer. Again, I have read a few YAOI books where the conclusion seems to be unclear and the readers are supposed to interpret the intentions of the writer. I must confess I thought this was what Josh intended, probably incorrectly, that the reader should come to his/her own conclusions as to who was the real killer, or maybe he thought it was blindingly clear.

      At least this book will have a lot of readers talking for quite some time and the discussion is certainly not boring. WOW if the book had ended differently there probably wouldn’t be as much interest in the story and certainly not the same amount of controversy. 🙂

  • Although I have not read this book, I decided to reply because something stood out to me here:

    “The irrationality came through many times in the story and although I didn’t understand it I have read a few manga BL stories where the characters exhibited similar characteristics, maybe it’s a cultural norm of the genre.”

    Sorry, but no. Irrationality is not a cultural norm. I think a lot of Western MM fiction have TSTL characters–is that a cultural norm of the MM genre? Granted, TSTL characters also plague BL manga, so I think this has nothing to do with culture. I read a lot of BL, mostly fiction but some good manga, and as far as I know, the best of them are very reasonable with reasonable characters. Aside from the general ‘feel’ of the story (instead of sexual tension threatening to explode in your face, the tension is usually more subdued, more emotional than physical, therefore characters are less likely to sport a hard-on every few pages) and different focus in genre/tropes due to cultural reasons (not a lot of H/C in BL but it seems to be very popular in the MM genre), there really is not much difference from western fiction. Storytelling and character motivation/behavior has to make sense. Unless it’s a crack/humor fic. Readers still have logic, it’s not as though the main audience of BL (Asians) don’t have brains, and in fact culturally we actually value intelligence above everything else. I have no idea if the author thought irrational characters were a cultural norm of the genre but I hope it was not his intention. I find the attempt to excuse the author’s mistake of creating irrational characters as a norm of BL/Asian Culture quite insulting. I know you didn’t mean it but I was rather disturbed by that remark. Deeply disturbed. There is only so much you can do to rationalize mistakes.

    At any rate, I will commend the author for trying something new-to-him. However, based on the reviews I read, I probably will be avoiding this. I love icy/aloof ukes (though why “princess”? Does the guy cross-dress or something?) and the dynamic promised in the summary nails my tastes and had me wondering, but I have dnf’d many-a-fiction with irrational characters…

    • Hi Y

      WordPress ate my reply before I could finish it so I’ll try once more, perhaps a shorter response this time:

      Aside from the general ‘feel’ of the story (instead of sexual tension threatening to explode in your face, the tension is usually more subdued, more emotional than physical, therefore characters are less likely to sport a hard-on every few pages) and different focus in genre/tropes due to cultural reasons

      Your comment above perhaps should have been what I should have said. Of course I didn’t mean to insult Asian culture by saying that some of the BL characters I have read were “irrational” leaving the inference that this was because the characters were Asian, because that is not solely a trait in Asian/YAOI books. It would be stupid of me if I meant that this was solely an Asian trait in BL books, but not racist. I may have worded my comment inappropriately but there was no hidden meaning or insult intended. If the impression you received was that there was such an insult I sincerely apologise. I frequently talk about the tropes in M/M, including “irrational” characters something I don’t like, and they include characters of all races. It’s just a norm of M/M. One of the reasons that I no longer read het is because of TSTL characters, and M/M now seems to have a preponderance of these characters so I have stopped reading as many books as I used to because it’s the same old, same old. I have read a few manga stories with what I perceive to be irrational actions on the part of the characters, but this is not confined or restricted to manga, it’s across the board in M/M.

      As I said in the review, there was less of a focus in the latter part of the book on solving the mystery and more emphasis on the interactions between the two MCs, so if you’re looking for a typical mystery with lots of clues and interrogations and a denouement at the end, this would not be the book. As for the resolution it wasn’t explicit but to me the implication of who actually committed the murder was clear.

      Thanks for commenting and again, I’m sorry if you felt that what I said was an intended slur about Asian culture. I would probably react the same way if I thought that a comment was a slight to blacks, even if it were not intended.

  • Hi Wave,
    Thank you so much for the very thorough review. I agree with your comment that your enjoyment of the story will depend on your expectations. As as Josh Lanyon fan my expectation was that the story would be intelligent and well-written regardless of the plotline. And in that I was definitely not disappointed. I have only some knowledge of YAOI, so I wasn’t at all clear on how much intermingling of that trope Josh was using in his story. I was reading it more as just a new JL novella. And in that sense alone, I found it to be a most delightful read.

    • Hi Susan

      I’m glad you enjoyed the book. As you can see from the comments, fans of the author as well as casual readers of his books are divided as to whether this latest book from Josh worked for them. While it worked for me, I can understand the views of other readers who didn’t like certain aspects of the story, and that’s expected. Not everyone will like every book any author releases, even their favourites.

      We’re all looking forward to Josh’s newest releases from either Dangerous Ground or Holmes and Moriarity. Maybe there will be consensus about these books. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting.

  • It has nothing to do with yaoi – Lanyon simply didn’t finish writing the book; the characters are outlines, not characters. I think your rating is a bit of a disservice to book buyers.

    • Hi GR

      I always tell the truth regarding how I feel about a book and my rating here reflects that. I’m sorry you feel that my rating is “a bit of a disservice to readers” because I value the fact that many readers use our ratings as part of their decision criteria to buy a book.

      I think I was more than fair in the review because I talked about the things that I didn’t like in the book and the reason I rated it the way I did.

      Blood Red Butterfly will continue to divide readers about different aspects of the MC’s characterization and the plot, some of whom are fans of the writer – the ratings are all over the map, from 2 to 5 stars on Amazon. This is not a book everyone will like because I didn’t think the MCs followed the formula that most authors use -maybe that’s why they eventually appealed to me because I love very flawed characters. Having said that, I respect your opinion.

      Thanks for commenting.

  • Thanks Wave, your review said a lot of what I thought. I was particularly interested that you liked it more on second read, I have yet to do that , very unusual for me and a Lanyon book. I did not connect with the characters very well, finding them rather hard to care about. They felt somewhat varnished to me. I was rather sad about that but happy the book showed a writer trying new things.

    • Hi Raine
      As I said in the review I found the characters aloof, slick and cocky and it wasn’t until the end that I connected with them. Because the story was YAOI BL I could see Josh Lanyon trying to bring the same kind of approach to this book – at times he was successful and at others he wasn’t. This is definitely not your typical JL mystery because there ware too many other factors working here: an author trying something new which means he will make mistakes or miss the boat entirely (in this case I think it was the former) and the characters not going exactly where he wants them to go because of the cultural background. I believe this is the first time that he has written a book with Asian/eastern MCs (I could be wrong) and unless you know a fair amount about the culture, the characters are difficult to get exactly right. He did make a great effort though, which I have to applaud.

      The first time I read this book I couldn’t quite connect to the characters or the story because of what I perceived as flaws I didn’t like and I was initially going to rate it as 4 stars because the writing is always exceptional, but on the re-read a few new things struck me about Mickey Torres’ character – sure he was scum, but his entire life was a downer and he did the right thing in the end; and about the MCs who in the end tried hard to meet each other halfway in order to make a life together. So it’s a story that many fans of the writer don’t like (I don’t think I’ve ever seen such diverse opinions on a JL book – from 2 stars to 5) and others praise to the skies. I did like it, as I mentioned earlier in the thread, a lot more the second time around. 🙂

      I much prefer it when an author tries new genres or new cultures rather than sticking with the tried and true, because that’s the only way they will grow as a writer.

      That’s my take on this book anyway. 🙂

  • I was waiting for that review. I’ve read the story a few weeks ago and was dissapointed.

    It has happened! My first Josh Lanyon story I couldn’t connect to. 🙁

    It was …whatever. I didn’t get to feel the guys, lets their emotions. So for me it missed an important part. Both MCs acted irrational on several occasions and Mr. Lanyon couldn’t make me understand or accept it. It even came to the point that I didn’t like Kai or Ryo (which by the way wouldn’t be a problem if I understood/felt them). The story itself was not exactly very intelligent …I mean was all hinged on the fact that Kai gives that alibi and…well, for those whe have read the book…I mean…how dumb do you have to be to not realise that the alibi…….not ging to spoil but seriously????

    Obviously it’s a book that divides the fans – lots are happy to have a new Josh Lanyon story and lots are writing the same: Anticipated but fell flat on connecting with the MCs. Interesting to read the reviews on goodreads

    The writing itself was as always great. That was not the problem for me.

    So…I think I better reread “I spy something bloody”…this makes me feel “it”.

    • Hi Sunne
      Thank you for commenting.

      I said to Raine in comment #5 that this book really divided JL fans – with a range of opinions from 2 stars to 5. As I indicated in the review summary, a lot of your enjoyment depends on your expectations. I expected that the story would definitely be different and it was, and I expected the author to make mistakes because the genre was new to him and the cultural nuances are difficult to *get* due to a lack of knowledge of what makes manga BL stories so popular.

      My first time around reading this book I had many questions about the MCs who I didn’t find at all likeable, until the end when their humanity showed through the slick pretentious posing exterior; and the investigation which changed half way through the book when Ryo decided that protecting Kai was more important than his job. It’s a human failure, so I could see that happening when feelings are involved.

      I think these characters are some of the most complex that JL has created and I don’t know whether he meant to make them so difficult to like or if the characterization got away from him – hard to tell. Anyway I did like them in the end the second time I read Blood Red Butterfly, even Mickey Torres who I think showed his humanity when he let Kai’s hand go. I DO love very flawed characters so perhaps that’s part of the reason I ended up liking these guys..

      I can understand that you didn’t feel the MC’s emotions – I didn’t at first, especially Kai’s, as the book was told from Ryo’s POV, but that is the case in many books I have read with first person POVs.

      The irrationality came through many times in the story and although I didn’t understand it I have read a few manga BL stories where the characters exhibited similar characteristics, maybe it’s a cultural norm of the genre. As for the alibi, I think that was a means to have the MCs meet in an antagonistic situation which created a lot of conflict, and then build a sexual relationship that led to something deeper.

      I much prefer it when an author tries something new and different because that shows he wants to keep improving his writing and thus continue to grow as a writer. Sometimes these attempts fail completely and at others they make mistakes which are understandable. I think it’s the latter here but that’s just me.

      It’s always a good thing to re-read the Dangerous Ground series. I”m finding myself loving this series much more than Adrien English (shhh! don’t tell anyone) 🙂 and I can’t wait for the next book.

      BTW Josh has admitted on many occasions that he realizes that not all of his books will be fan favourites, and he must have known he took a huge risk with this one, especially his first release after his sabbatical.

      • Personally…I’m waiting for the next Holmes & Moriarity 😉

        I totally agree with the fact that it’s great if an author tries something new but that doesn’t mean he has to loose parts of what makes his writing so great. In all Josh Lanyon books it was easy for me to connect to the MCs…even if they are not at first the most likeable guys (…talking about Mark for example). And as long as I can understand why they are doing what it’s okay for me.
        That is what was missing in this story – for me.
        It might be different for others.

        And I really agree with Sirius – the story failed in the mystery solution – seriously. That was too constructed to even make sense….Josh Lanyon can do mystery so much better.

        • Totally agree with you. Despite my being a huge Lanyon fan this one didn’t connect with me. And I too can’t wait for the next Holmes and Moriarity:)

          • Hi Madonna

            As I said earlier, the book worked for me – not as well as other books written by Josh, but I did like it. As for the mystery, I think I indicated in the review that in my opinion Josh concentrated on the love story rather than the mystery, leaving mystery fans disappointed with what they saw as a lack of resolution of the “who done it” aspect of the book.

  • I have to admit that as much as I was looking forward to Josh’s return from the sabbatical, I was kind of nervous about this new book. I’ve never read YAOI, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, or if I’d like it. I should have known better. I need to learn to just relax and follow along where ever he takes us. I really enjoyed this book. It was Josh stretching his wings, and I think successfully. I agree, you nailed the review.

    • Hi M
      Thank you for the kind words.

      We were all nervous about Blood Red Butterfly as it could have been an unholy mess. I was afraid to crack it open because I didn’t know what I would find but I trusted Josh and was rewarded. Josh stretched his wings and took us along for the ride because many of his followers do not read YAOI and maybe they will check out a few other YAOI titles at a later date. 🙂

  • Faith, I think you touched on one of the aspects I so admire about Josh – he tries new things to stretch and grow as a writer. I thought you nailed the review.

    • Thank you.

      The book isn’t perfect, but I didn’t expect it to be. I admire Josh’s desire to try new-to-him genres and while some don’t work as much as others, he writes damn good stories. I enjoyed this book a lot more the second time I read it. 🙂

      We have too many authors who stick with what they know and they never grow – the opposite of Lanyon.


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