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First Clue - Light on Bone by Kathryn Lasky, Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen, Knock Off the Hat by Richard Stevenson, Bottled Lightning by L.M. Weeks

First Clue
The post-war years were pivotal for LGBTQ people in America. Thousands of queer folk joined in the war effort, where they met with harassment, bigotry, and often dishonorable discharge—while also discovering their identity, creating a sense of community, and meeting friends and lovers.
As the war ended, lesbians and gay men often chose to settle in cities, establishing the bars and baths and publishing the magazines and books that became essential to gay culture. Not that this clandestine world was without its risks. Bars were regular raided, patrons beaten, blackmail a fact of life, and the names of the victims routinely published.
But it was the oppression of these years that would lead to later rebellions, like Stonewall, and eventually the legalization of same-sex marriage, even if our forebears could never imagine such a thing could actually take place.
Which is why we’re so pleased to share in this issue two novels, Lavender House and Knock Off the Hat, that both mine this rich era, offering narratives that share as much as they differ. Here’s hoping we’ll hear more from both detectives in the future. They’ve both got stories to tell!—Brian Kenney

Portrait of the Artist as a Detective
Lasky, Kathryn. Light on Bone (A Georgia O'Keeffe Mystery). September. 298p. Woodhall Press.
In real life, artist Georgia O’Keeffe began in 1929 to spend part of each year at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, New Mexico, and eventually moved there. When we join her at the ranch in 1934, she’s settled into an artistic rhythm in the desert landscape that so inspired her. O’Keeffe regularly drives into the desert to paint, enjoying a life that’s much looser than she lived with her rich, philandering husband back in New York. (In an amusing scene, the beat-of-her-own-drum-living O’Keeffe must genuinely have explained to her what a speed limit is.) On one of her excursions, the artist finds the vulture-attacked body of a priest, and the mystery only deepens when the man’s luggage contains decidedly unholy objects; it also has a map of the area with O’Keeffe’s house marked. As she investigates the strange man’s death, outsiders who visit Ghost Ranch, including Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne, add to the puzzles facing O’Keeffe. Neighbors’ lives, with their own difficulties, also feature prominently in the artist’s day-to-day life, with Lasky unobtrusively showing the twistedness of the Native’s subjugation. For example, white visitors who have spent their lives in this country have unfamiliar Native myths explained to them by reference to more familiar Greek myths and must be told not to take notes at a Native ceremony because “we are not museum artifacts.” While it’s apt for the time, the n-word features twice, and child sexual abuse is also a theme. Readers who enjoy this intriguing, emotional series debut could try another featuring celebrities: Erin Lindsey’s A Golden Grave, in which Nikola Tesla is a character; or for more New Mexico-set mysteries with a female sleuth, pick up Amanda Allen’s Santa Fe Revival series.Henrietta Verma
Safe Within the Walls?
⭐Rosen, Lev AC. Lavender House. October. 288p. Forge.
It’s 2 p.m., and Evander “Andy” Mills is sitting alone at a bar, suicidal ideations dancing in his head. And for a good reason. A detective with the San Francisco police, his world was ripped apart when he was caught in flagrante delicto during a raid on a gay bar and thrown off the police force. This is, after all, 1952, and until now Andy has succeeded in keeping his sexuality locked away from the rest of his life. As he reaches for his fifth martini, he’s interrupted by a society woman who has a proposal for him: investigate the mysterious death of her wife, Irene Lamontaine, who died in Lavender House, the family estate. Did she say “wife?” Indeed she did. And off we go to Lavender House, home to the Lamontaine family, who own a soap dynasty, and where nearly everyone, from family members to the help, is absolutely queer. Their world is a fascinating one, as free as it is safe—until, that is, Irene was murdered. No reader who’s made it through the first chapter could ever think of abandoning this magical novel as it morphs into a sort of locked-room mystery with culprits everywhere. But as engrossing as the Lamontaines may be, it’s Andy who centers the narrative, and who emerges from the story—to use contemporary jargon—beginning to heal, both physically and emotionally. Here’s hoping this is just the beginning of Andy Mills’ investigations.—Brian Kenney
Other than Honorable Conditions
⭐Stevenson, Richard. Knock Off the Hat. A Clifford Waterman Gay Philly Mystery. April. 200p. Amble. 
It’s summer in post-World-War-II Philadelphia. The temperature is rising, and so too is the gay bashing, thanks to the police department and the City’s hugely corrupt judicial system. Tough-talking, but also hugely funny, Clifford Waterman—a former police detective who received a dishonorable discharge from the Army for being caught in the act in Cairo—is trying to make a go as a noirish PI. He’s hired to get the charges against a young man caught up in a bar raid dismissed and his $500 bribe reduced. Shake-downs of lesbians and gay men are nothing new, but Waterman begins to realize that the scope of the attacks and the size of the bribes are escalating hugely—along with the psychological damage and suicides that the publicity is causing among the LGBTQ community. Waterman’s search is a broad one, taking him throughout the greater Philadelphia area and up and down the social ladder. Sex and lovers, the relationships between Black and white queer men—expect the racist language of the day—and jazz and the blues all contribute to creating a memorable time and place. It’s great to have the author of the ground-breaking Don Strachey novels back with what we can only hope will be as prolific a series.Brian Kenney 
Lightning. In a Box.
Weeks. L.M. Bottled Lightning. June. 312p. South Fork Publishing.
The catalyst for this fast-moving, Tokyo-set thriller is the invention of a way to chemically produce lightning, which creates an enormously efficient way to generate electricity. As in John Marr’s recent The One and The Passengers, for which this is a good readlike, the human side of the technology overtakes the invention itself, complicating relationships and putting all involved in peril. When the book opens, the danger hits the road, literally, as lawyer Torn Sagara and his client Saya Brooks, the lightning box’s inventor, are attacked on a Tokyo highway, first by men on motorcycle and then by others in a car. Were these separate attacks? Was Torn or Saya the intended target? All the while, Weeks (like Torn, born in Alaska and now a lawyer in Japan) creates an immersive view of the strange life of his protagonist, a half-Japanese, half-American man who shrugs off the slights and outright discrimination he faces from fellow Japanese. Readers will also find themselves voyeurs of the mental gymnastics it takes for the lawyer to sustain two affairs and even start a third before the book is over (physical gymnastics may also come to mind as Torn and one of his mostly ignored girlfriends take advantage of an airplane bathroom). As well as taking on many interesting details of Japanese culture, including its funeral rites, by the end readers will also be well acquainted with the flawed but lovable Torn and will hope for more visits to his between-worlds life.Henrietta Verma 
Extra Credit
Mothers and Daughters: Inspiration for The Echoes
The Hard-boiled Female Detective
How One Author Forced Himself to Reconsider Expectations About Violence in Fiction | CrimeReads
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Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney
Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney @1stClueReviews

The mission of First Clue is simple: to provide succinct reviews of crime fiction far in advance of publication. Our intent is for First Clue to help librarians and booksellers select titles and make recommendations, and readers find that next great read. We’re especially interested in books by authors of color, LGBTQ writers, first novelists, books that are first in a series, as well as translations and titles from smaller publishers. We give stars to books we love or which do a great job at accomplishing what they set out to do.

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