Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-61923-006-4
Historical Mystery, 2015
Well, well, what have we here? Set in the early 19th century, we have Cadell Meredith, a medical student who often bribes his way into getting his hands on some cadavers for his medical studies. When the story opens, he is nearly caught by a cop while trying to retrieve some fresh meat, and later he has a very strong suspicion that the cause of death of his latest acquisition is murder. At first, he doesn’t want to make a fuss and paints himself as the target for the murderer, oh no, but curiosity soon gets the better of him. As you can probably guess, what seems like a straightforward case of murder soon turns out to be something more.. sprawling. Meanwhile, the cop Blaine Breton keeps showing up, sneering and scowling his way into the mystery, Cadell’s pants, and, probably, the other man’s heart.
Now, much about Dark Economy, from the plot synopsis and the cover, suggests that this is another historical romance with two guys who are into – and onto – one another, but I hope you aren’t expecting a grand romance here. The thing is, this one is actually more of a historical mystery with an amateur sleuth of a protagonist, and romance is just one of the more minor elements in this story. Cadell and Blaine don’t have many grand romantic moments together, and Cadell has sexy times with another character in this story. But are all these bad things? Of course not, I’m just telling you all this so that you can adjust your expectations accordingly before reading this one.
This one is actually a pretty engaging read. It says a lot that I only sigh in exasperation and look at the clock only once in a while instead of, say, every ten pages despite the fact that I feel that this story could use a little more judicious self-editing to tighten up many of the more long-drawn draggy scenes that plague this story. The pacing may make my reading experience akin to swimming in quicksand sometimes, but the mystery is pretty interesting and I find myself turning the pages to find out what exactly is going on here.
I am torn about Cadell, but I think I’m leaning towards liking him at the end of the day. I like that he’s not some goody-goody two shoes – he has no problems lying or stealing when the need arises, and this attitude makes him a pretty good amateur sleuth. There is no “I can’t lie, so I’m so screwed as a result… will my boyfriend come save me in time?” nonsense here, thank goodness. However, Cadell is a stereotype in his own right as well. Now, I’m not a “masc only, please” kind of reader when it comes to gay romances, but I’m rather tired of the succession of emotional, hand-waving, flustered gay male protagonist paired with a working class straight-acting gay dude. It’s probably a good thing that the romance here isn’t the in your face sort, as I’m going to be so bored if these two end up playing up the same kind of relationship dynamics that plague all those gay romances written by women.
I’m also not too fond of the way the author uses words like “smirking” and “sneering” as if these words are supposed to be sexy. It’s just me, but, okay, “brooding” may be sexy. “Snarling”… well, it depends. But I have hard time associating “smirking” and “sneering” with sexy – the often unattractive faces one tends to make while smirking and sneering never make me feel like wanting to take off my underwear and throw it at someone’s face.
Anyway, Dark Economy boasts an interesting story and a protagonist who has his moments. The pacing is iffy, though, and I feel that the author could have done a little more to make her story stand out.