Friday, April 01, 2016

Mystery in Maine and Chicago, Clever and "Snarky," HUSBANDS AND LAP DOGS BREATHE THEIR LAST, David Steven Rappoport

Philanthropist Cumming Flynn Wanamaker and his husband live in contemporary Chicago, but their network of friends and locales extends to the coast of Maine. That turns out to be very helpful for this amateur sleuth, when he's the guest of a friend at a Chicago meeting of an occult gathering with delicious steampunk accents. When the speaker self-combusts, Cummings quickly receives an urgent requent to discover more of what had been going on under the table (so to speak) in the group, as well as to recover an item of jewelry that the speaker had flourished.

But Cummings has barely begun to investigate the odd couplings within the group when he gets a second request for his amateur sleuthing skills: His only friend in the rural town of Horeb, Maine, the "elderly, upper class New Englander" Ernestine Cutter, needs him at once to investigate a suspicious death in her own circle. In quick succession, Cummings realizes that not only do both deaths connect with authors (including a gay romance author compared with Barbara Cartland for his many works), but they also both relate somehow to William Reich's psychological explorations of "orgone," a sexual force long since ignored. How can the two deaths share so much, at such a distance from each other?

Between artful descriptions of Chicago classic architectures, "snarky" (the author and publisher's term) interactions among several sets of husbands, and explorations of the occult, this romp through motives and means is in turns a bit naughty and very entertaining. The book is David Steven Rappoport's debut, but he's no raw beginner himself -- author of two Off-Broadway plays, holder of a pair of master's degrees (one is in writing), and a full-time consultant for high-dollar nonprofit plans for health care and other missions, he deftly crafts a lively and often humorous tale, with a lively balance of red herrings and a memorable cast of bizarre characters. I liked Cumming in particular for his habit of solving his choice dilemmas with a combination of stopwatch and random selection. But he's also a dogged investigator who won't leave a stone unturned in the hunt to solve his cases.

HUSBANDS AND LAP DOGS BREATHE THEIR LAST is titled from Alexander Pope's poem "The Rape of the Lock." The pace is lively, the twists abundant, and the characters unstoppable (including in their romantic commitments). I considered it a good page-turner, keeping me well engaged and chuckling, in spite of a few leftover-from-revisions errors that the casual publisher, Mainly Murder Press, allowed to slide by. The book came out in e-version first, and today is the paperback release date; I'll be watching for the sequels, which are Dead Words, and Heidi on the Half Shell

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