Title: Pretty Boy Dead (Kendall Parker Mysteries 1)
Author: Jon Michaelsen
Publisher: Lethe Press
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Length: Novel/93,000 words
Genre: Contemporary/GLBT/Mystery/Police procedural
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A review by LadyM
Review summary: Excellent police procedural with protagonist struggling to accept his sexuality.
Blurb: A murdered male stripper. A missing go-go dancer. A city councilman on the hook. Can Atlanta homicide detective Sergeant Kendall Parker solve the heinous crime and remain safely behind the closet door?
When the body of a young man is found in a popular midtown park, police and local media are quick to pin the brutal killing on a homeless gay kid with AIDS. But homicide detective Sgt. Kendall Parker isn’t so convinced, even when the suspect is accused of assaulting another police detective with a deadly weapon.
City leaders want the murder solved yesterday and jump at the chance to pin the crime on the drug-craving teen. It’s an election year, so remaining in office is their top priority, even at the sacrifice of the young man. Sgt. Parker isn’t so persuaded and is determined to prove Hopper’s innocence, despite the protest of his colleagues, and threatening the deep secret Parker has carefully hidden from his comrades for years.
First of all, Pretty Boy Dead is not a romance. NOT A ROMANCE. I cannot stress this strong enough. Going into the book expecting it would be a disservice to both the reader and the author. The publisher categorized it as gay mainstream and I agree. It was written and plotted well enough to stand without shame shoulder to shoulder with its mainstream counterparts (no gay prefix needed). The book is, first and foremost, a police procedural and a very realistic one at that.
I usually start my reviews with things that didn’t work for me or bothered me in a way that affected the rating. In this case, I have to say it was precious little. I didn’t quite like the way the case was resolved, although it was realistic. The real life detectives do not always break their own cases, plus Parker was on suspension at the time. But, this is fiction and, as a reader, I like seeing the character get what he worked so hard for. The other minor thing is that I wanted to know more about Parker’s life before the accident, since the better part of this book is about changes in his life and perspective.
Sergeant Kendall Parker has returned to his job as a detective for Atlanta PD after an accident and immediately lands a controversial case: a young man is beaten to death and found days later almost unrecognizable. The victim is a gay son of a prominent man. He is a former stripper whose boss has mob ties. There are a lot of elements that throw a wrench in Parker’s attempts to solve the case: problems with identification, victim’s family, his colleagues’ homophobia (including his partner’s), a reporter with a grievance from the past, lack of witnesses… But, what captures the reader almost as much as the mystery is an undercurrent of unease intertwined with the narrative. At first we don’t know anything about the accident that Parker survived. In fact, it takes half of the novel for the reader to learn about it. The relationship between our protagonist and his partner, Vincent Perelli, is strained though, once again, we don’t know why for a long time. Parker and reporter Calvin Slade hate each other. The reason – another mystery. When the reader finds out the truth, it is unsurprising and it’s bound to break your heart.
“Losing Michael has had an enormous impact on my life for reasons I don’t yet comprehend. I’m feeling claustrophobic and trapped. I’ve been hiding behind this shadow of who I am supposed to be for so long that I’m no longer sure of who I am. Along the way, I lost my identity. Part of me wants to stop this ridiculous charade, step off the merry-go-round and quit maintaining a second bedroom for appearance’s sake. I’m tired of worrying about what other people think.”
The changes Parker experiences are not external – it is he who changed and so his perspective changes. Usually, I would be bothered by the fact that I cannot really pinpoint the main character. But, it made so much sense here. He was closed off from the world in general for a long time. Parker is a character in transition; he doesn’t know himself and so neither can the reader really know him. But, you still learn some things. He is a dedicated officer and doesn’t stand for injustice. He can also love and it will be great to see him do his job without fear and, maybe, even, love again.
The secondary characters are well developed and not quite what the blurb implies. Things that you see are not quite what you think and neither are the characters. The author takes some surprising turns in their characterization as well in the plot. This is no easy feat – I’ve read so many mysteries in all their incarnations, so most of the time I can predict where the author is taking the story/character. And, while I still guessed some, the other things surprised me. Well done.
The procedural itself was well researched, but minutiae of police work never overwhelm the narrative. Things just don’t happen at ridiculous CSI speed, yet the story progresses at good pace. At the end of the novel, one mystery remains. Will Parker stay in the police force or become private investigator? Both choices have upsides and downsides. It is questionable how Parker would be received by his colleagues after the events in this book (and not just because he came out). On the other hand, private investigators rarely deal with the high-profile cases he is accustomed to. Rookie detective, Timothy Brooks might be a good new partner for Parker. But there is also something in being your own boss. We will have to wait and see.
Pretty Boy Dead is a well-written police procedural with an engaging plot and well-developed characters. As an opening for the new series, it works perfectly – while this story is done, you want to know more about Kendall Parker. Hopefully, there will be much more.
While eagerly waiting for the sequel, this book is highly recommended.