MURDER ON CAMAC by Joseph R.G. DeMarco Tuesday, Sep 22 2009 

Murder on Camac

Murder on Camac
Joseph R. G. DeMarco

Publisher: Lethe Press (August 22, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1590212134
ISBN-13: 978-1590212134

Murder on Camac is a P.I. novel so believable even I, who have not read many such books, was totally pulled into the story.

Marco Fontana, our hero, is a gorgeous Italian-American Private Investigator. He’s wary and a little cynical, as you would expect of a P.I. He’s also highly intelligent and sensitive-not the weeping kind of sensitivity but the kind that makes him aware of what makes people tick, how they think, and he’s a pretty wicked judge of character. Nor is he your average fictional P.I.; on the side Marco also owns a troupe of male strippers (with class and a whole lot more!). He is, in fact, good-looking enough to dance in a G-string himself – if he loses a particular bet with a friend.

The book has a cast of colorful characters, from a many-times-widowed Russian secretary to a stunningly handsome Catholic Monsignor, from a teenage hit man to a heartbroken stripper, and many more in between. DeMarco presents even the supporting cast perfectly; if he had gone a shade further with the characterizations some of them would have become stereotypes and the story would have been ruined for me, but with precision artistry he shows just enough but not too much.

Helmut Brandt, a youngish, successful author, is shot and killed on Camac Street in Philadelphia one night. The police dismiss it as a mugging gone bad, but Brandt’s much older lover believes it was murder, and he hires Marco to get at the truth. Brandt, you see, had rattled quite a few cages with his first book that levied broad hints that Albino Luciani – known to the world for four short weeks in 1978 as Pope John Paul I – had been murdered. Brandt had promised that his second book, nearing completion at the time of his death, would prove that men high up in the church were responsible, possibly including members of a shadowy organization called P2. But where – and what – was the proof? Brandt was dead, and not even his lover knew where he had hidden his manuscript and research notes. And why, since decades had passed and most of the principals were dead, would anyone think it necessary to murder Brandt? Or could he have been murdered for more mundane reasons, such as jealousy? Or could the one behind Brandt’s murder be the twitchy rival author who wanted to stop his competition dead in his tracks? Or could it actually be what the police said: simply a mugging?

Marco gets to the bottom of it all and unearths the guilty party, as of course he would. Before he reaches that point, though, he is threatened, nearly run down by a car, cracked on the head and hospitalized with a concussion, and, worst of all, he’s completely baffled. But he is Marco Fontana and you know he’ll get his man. Red herrings and MacGuffins abound, and I was often tempted to peek at the ending. But I didn’t. And I was glad I behaved myself.

Murder on Camac
is a fast, entertaining read. I expect we will be seeing more of Marco Fontana in the future, with or without the G-string. I give it five Sherlocks and a Watson.


THE ANGEL SINGERS (A Dick Hardesty Mystery) by Dorien Grey Sunday, Apr 19 2009 


The Angel Singers
By Dorien Grey
Publisher: Zumaya Publications, LLC
ISBN-10: 1934841064
ISBN-13: 978-1934841068

To paraphrase Sally Field’s famous Oscar speech, “I like him. I really like him!” Him who? P.I. Dick Hardesty, that’s who, the Private Investigator protagonist of Angel Singers.

Many, many, many years ago when I was young, I picked up my first private eye novel. I recall only that I hated it, it was by Mickey Spillane and it started out with a gal who was naked under her raincoat/ trench coat. I didn’t like the snarky hero, didn’t like the book, didn’t like the writing and did not plan to read another of the genre. Then recently I read one of Richard Stevenson’s Donald Strachey novels (Ice Blues)and one of Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English novels (The Hell You Say), and discovered P.I. stories I actually liked. A lot. And now—one of Dorien Grey’s Dick Hardesty novels.

Angel Singers is the latest in the series. There is a complete list of titles in the series at the end of the review.

The title intrigued me because I love anything to do with music. When I learned that Dick Hardesty’s life partner, Jonathan Quinlan, loves to sing and has joined a men’s chorus, I was hooked before I ever got to the mystery. The director of the chorus is quoted as saying to his singers, “When you talk, you’re human. When you sing, you’re angels.”

Because the chorus is made up of human beings, there are often bruised egos, jealousies, rivalries, and the other side of the coin, firm friendships. And then into this band of angel singers comes Lucifer, in the form of Grant Jefferson who is young, beautiful, talented—and a manipulative, selfish egoist without a shred of conscience. To say he wreaks havoc among the chorus is like saying the bull in the china shop caused a little damage. His evil even extends to running down one of the chorus members, nearly killing him. Grant Jefferson ends up dead, blown to bloody shards by a car bomb. But whodunit?

When a murder victim has gone out of his way to infuriate most of the people he came in contact with, as Grant Jefferson did, there is a small army of suspects with means, motive, and opportunity. Is it the obvious suspect: the rich sugar-daddy Grant Jefferson was playing like a violin while tricking on the side? Is it the bitter son of a man whose career Grant Jefferson ruined, causing his death from a heart attack? Or could it be an earlier sugar-daddy who didn’t like being dumped for someone richer? Could it even be the jealous partner of a chorus member whose long-term relationship was ruined by the late unlamented Lucifer wannabe? Or is it an as-yet-unknown man whose life was malevolently marked by the deceased? It’s up to Hardesty to find out. And of course he does because, after all, he is the hero of the series. That he will find the killer is the only unsurprising thing about this tale. The killer was one I did not even suspect!

One of the things I like most about this book is that Dick Hardesty and Jonathan Quinlan have a believable and almost enviable relationship. They’re good parents (Uncle Dick, and Uncle Jonathan) to five-year old Joshua. In fact, my only quibble is that it wasn’t explained, though I’m sure it was in an earlier story, who Joshua’s parents were, what happened to them, and how Hardesty-Quinlan came to be his dads. Joshua adds a pixie quality to a murder mystery; he’s a typical five-year-old who is by turns endearing and a pint-sized tyrant. In other words, Hardesty-Quinlan are complete human beings and their being gay is only part of their identity. An adult reader knows from that the two men are a couple and that they have sex, but it’s not explicit and isn’t shown in any detail whatsoever. Even someone who would be uneasy with even a small amount of gay sex in a book could read this and not wince.

Highly recommended for everyone who doesn’t get apoplectic at the thought of committed gay couples with children!

Once I get down farther in my stack of TBR books, I fully intend to read some more of this series, as well as more Richard Stevenson and Josh Lanyon.

The series titles in order of appearance, are: The Butcher’s Son, The Ninth Man, The Bar Watcher, The Hired Man, The Good Cop, The Bottle Ghosts, The Dirt Peddler, The Role Players, The Popsicle Tree, The Paper Mirror, The Dream Ender, and The Angel Singers.
They are all available in or on order from any bookstore or on-line bookseller.