Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Psychic and the Sleuth by Summer Devon and Bonnie Dee

Title: The Psychic and the Sleuth
Author: Summer Devon and Bonnie Dee
Cover Artist: Kendra Eggert
Publisher: Samhain
Genre: historical
Length: 237 pages

Inspector Robert Court should have felt a sense of justice when a rag-and-bones man went to the gallows for murdering his cousin. Yet something has never felt right about the investigation. Robert’s relentless quest for the truth has annoyed his superintendent, landing him lowly assignments such as foiling a false medium who’s fleecing the wives of the elite.

Oliver Marsh plays the confidence game of spiritualism, though his flashes of insight often offer his clients some comfort. Despite the presence of an attractive, if sneering, non-believer at a séance, he carries on—and experiences a horrifying psychic episode in which he experiences a murder as the victim.

There’s only one way for Court to learn if the young, dangerously attractive Marsh is his cousin’s killer or a real psychic: spend as much time with him as possible. Despite his resolve to focus on his job, Marsh somehow manages to weave a seductive spell around the inspector’s straight-laced heart.
Gradually, undeniable attraction overcomes caution. The two men are on the case, and on each other, as they race to stop a murderer before he kills again.

Warning: Graphic language and hot male/male sex with light BDSM themes. Despite “Descriptions of Murderous Acts” perpetrated by an unhinged killer, resist the temptation to cover your eyes—you’ll miss the good parts!
The Psychic and the Sleuth is the latest heir in the genre of amateur investigator working with, or sometimes in opposition to, the steady copper. This time the cop has a personal interest in the case: his pretty young cousin was the victim, and Robert Court doesn’t believe that the man who swung for the murder was the evil-doer.

Late Victorian justice had a way of putting a permanent end on an investigation, and Court’s persistence has had very negative career consequences. He’s working the equivalent of the low end of the fraud squad, crimes that occur when the clever meet the wealthy gullible. Spiritualism had been a movement for some fifty years at the time of this story, and was very popular among those who could pay to receive messages from the “Other Side.” Arthur Conan Doyle himself was a believer, even though his friend Harry Houdini decried it. Houdini spent a considerable amount of time, effort, and money debunking the mediums who crackled, knocked, thumped, and fainted their way into large sums in exchange for kind words and hope for the bereaved. The police occasionally took an interest, particularly at the suggestion of a family member who didn't like the medium's influence or the money drain.

So what happens when the medium is not a fraud? Or not a fraud all of the time? And is terrified of not being a fraud? And has an illicit attraction to the investigator too?

Oliver Marsh has a problem, since the object of his attraction is trying to put him out of business, and possibly into jail. Marsh has had some experience of love and both acceptance of his inclinations and a healthy desire not to suffer for them. Robert Court could create dire problems for Marsh, though as time passes and their relationship grows, he’s less willing to play that threat and more vulnerable to it himself. The accuser could easily become the accused, but Marsh pursues the relationship, not for safety’s sake, though who would blame him? but for genuine affection.

Court also grows in his belief that Marsh is not a dangerous fraud, and that the distressing clues he produces are both legitimate and the trail to the real culprit. As the spiritual matters clarify, the focus changes from the identity of the murderer to how to catch a man for a crime where guilt has been established elsewhere. A pair of secondary characters proves invaluable in the hunt, and are interesting in their own right.

Court’s experiences are of the of the quick, one-off variety; he’s not used to having a conversation, let alone a relationship, with the man he’s having sex with. His domineering tendencies match nicely to Marsh’s submission during sex; they come to enjoy their play more and more. Court can’t seem to keep this from turning into over-protectiveness in the investigation, something Marsh objects to and fights against.

In the end, if justice is not entirely done, then at least the murderer will kill no more, satisfying everyone but the hapless dustman. Court and Marsh’s conflicting needs and converging needs all meet in a late nineteenth century version of a twenty-first century solution, and all are happy, even within the confines of the times.

I wanted to like this story more than I did, and consequently, this has been a very tough review to write. It has a lot of elements done very well, with a good flavor of the late Victorian age, a well executed external mystery and a couple who overcome a number of problems to be together, but something remained flat for me. I could believe in the detective work and in the psychic elements, and I enjoyed the relationship as it relaxed into something both men could enjoy. Court the controlled copper was still Court the controlled and dominant lover, while Marsh could coax him into playfulness from the bottom.

So with all that I recognize that is well done here, this didn’t quite come alive off the page for me. Court’s demeanor is so unrelentingly somber that he loses three dimensionality, and his brief lightness when dealing with his unruly dog (who would probably be a terror to live with) isn’t enough to enliven him. Marsh had more moods, thoughts, and reactions, more emotions in general; his POV scenes were more enjoyable, his dangers more heart-pounding, his happiness more satisfying.

I would still recommend this book for those who like the period or who are fond of amateur sleuth+cop duos. 3.5 Marbles

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