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Retro Book Reviews

| Jul 28, 2019
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Elizabeth Parker was TGForum’s book reviewer in the late 1990s.

This month I’m thrilled to report a new Orland Outland release, Death Wore A Fabulous New Fragrance. If you recall, in last November’s column (1997), I reviewed his book, Death Wore A Smart Little Outfit. Well Outland has returned with a sequel in the Doan McCandler/Binky Van de Kamp series, and I’m pleased to report this book is even better.

To refresh your memory, Doan is a gay man who loves dressing in women’s clothing. In fact, the few times he dresses in “drab” he dislikes it intensely, a feeling I know we can all appreciate. He is apparently quite pretty, as he is often in this book mistaken for a gorgeous woman, and wears his blonde hair in a long bob. Some of the discrepancies in the prior book have been eliminated, such as those where people marvel at the sight of a man on a street in a dress. Now Doan mostly passes, except where it is obvious he is a man by the context. Binky is a beautiful trust fund baby, who makes enough to live on, but not enough to satisfy her lust for the good things in life. She and Doan are best friends who share the same taste in men and clothes.

As the book opens, Binky has broken up with the handsome police detective she dated in the last book. He has fallen for her in a big way, so he enlists Doan’s help in opening their own detective agency, something Doan wants to do anyway. The reasoning is that Binky will be thrown together with the detective in the course of investigations and his true love will win her over. Before this can happen, a dashing young movie star is killed with a perfume he is hawking, and the most obvious suspect is one of Binky and Doan’s gay activist friends. They begin to investigate, and before you can slip on a pair of 5-inch heels, Binky is hired as an assistant to a famous publicist, and Doan is babysitting the movie star’s adopted children. That leads to a gig helping at the Oscars and much adventure, all accompanied by the same delightful tongue-in-cheek humor.

Outland’s descriptiveness is still much too light for my taste, especially concerning Doan’s crossdressing. But I found it much more exciting than the first book. Doan truly masquerades as a woman some, and when he and Binky double-date, they act like two women on a date. Some have told me that they didn’t like the first book, and if that applies to you, don’t buy this one. But if you kind of liked the first one, then you’ll really like this sequel. And another big thanks to Jennifer Fitzgerald, who recommended the first book to me!

For my second main book, I’d like to recommend Hour of the Hunter, by J.A. Jance. This book hooked me on Jance, even though it is not like any of her others. It deals with a mother and son who must deal with the release from prison of the man who was responsible for the father’s incrimination and death. The ex-con, Andrew Carlisle, is an extremely intelligent former professor, who quickly catches on to the realities of life in prison. Carlisle realizes that small men are a valuable commodity in prison, and he is a very small man. So he trades his physical traits to those inmates who can do the most for him, thus getting something for the brutalization and humiliation he would have suffered anyway. Eventually he catches the eye of a prison official who arranges private plays for himself and others, where all parts are played by the inmates. Carlisle is, of course, typecast as a female and enjoys the challenge of the role. When Carlisle is released from prison he plans to get revenge for all of the pain he suffered in prison. He starts immediately with a female motorist. To raise funds, he obtains cheap women’s clothing and dresses in drag to get a pickup at a gay bar. This is one of the few inconsistencies of the book, as of course, that is not the way to get most gay men to like you. But it works, as Carlisle gets picked up by an aging Hollywood producer, who is killed as soon as they are alone. Carlisle finds better women’s clothing and wigs in the producer’s hotel room and appropriates them for his own use. He exits the hotel as a well-dressed woman.

This plot is interspersed with tales of the mother and son’s life, as well as several of the Native Americans they come in contact with on the reservation where they live. The descriptions of Native American life and myths as well as the coming-of-age of the son are what make this book outstanding. The serial killer plot is actually the weakest of the book. Just as we are excited by how Carlisle’s female impersonations are proceeding, they stop! I can only think that Jance backed off as this would have made Carlisle too hard to detect. In spite of the disappointment I do recommend the book, but as a paperback buy or a library checkout.

To finish out the J.A. Jance theme, there is another book she’s written with a transgender criminal. It is Taking the Fifth, one of her mystery series starring J.P. Beaumont, an alcoholic Seattle detective. I can’t say too much about the transgender aspect, except that while it is a major part of the plot, the description is minor. But I highly recommend the book on its own, as the characters are very well drawn and highly likable. I normally get bored by alcoholic characters, as they are usually very depressing to read about. But Beaumont is also a very good police detective, who is human, likably grouchy, and is surrounded by good and bad supporting players who are fun to read about. This series is Jance’s best writing by far, and Taking the Fifth is one of the best in this series.

The plot surrounds the murders of a several gay men, who are connected to the comeback tour of a famous singer. A stiletto heel was the murder weapon in the first murder, and Beaumont has a difficult task ahead of him, at first just to find out who the dead man is and where he lived. As in all of the Beaumont series, police procedural is the order of the day and if you enjoy that kind of mystery, you’ll most definitely enjoy this book. Jance is also a master of the despicable Fed character, and you’ll enjoy the tension created by this and other interactions.

Bibliography:

  • Jance, J.A., Hour of the Hunter, Avon, 1992, ISBN: 0380711079 (Paperback)
  • Jance, J.A., Taking The Fifth, Avon, 1987, ISBN: 9993906913 (Paperback reissue)
  • Jance, J.A., Taking The Fifth, Avon, 1990, ISBN: 0380751399 (Paperback)
  • Outland, Orland, Death Wore A Fabulous New Fragrance, Prime Crime, 1998, ISBN: 0425161978 (Paperback)

All these titles are available on Amazon or other online book sellers.


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