|A Review by Rebecca James|
|Sleeping Bones, by Katherine V. Forrest, September 1999
What is it about lesbians and mysteries? Now don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking aboutone step inside Lambda Rising and it's obvious we're all bloodthirsty crime solver wannabes. Patricia Cornwell is probably our most mainstream example, but she sacrificed gay main characters for big-time publishing and the New York Times Bestsellers list (who wouldn't?). The private dick dykes I'm really referring to are the many paperbacks with the lavender covers, the lone lesbian cop, P.I., or ex-Nancy Drew lover stomping through the pages in search of emotional fulfillment, a hot-she-doesn't-look-gay-but-maybe woman, and the elusive killer. I have to admit, since my own Nancy Drew days, I haven't read many mysteries; usually, the writing in the aforementioned lesbian crime novels is, in my opinion, about the same caliber writing as a 1980s teenage cult slasher (ever see 'Nuke 'em High'?). So, when Steve tossed me the new hardback by Katherine V. Forrest, Sleeping Bones, I had my doubts. Since the cover loudly proclaimed it "A Kate Delafield Mystery" (printed over a bright pink triangle) I decided I should have a look at one of the older Kate mysteries first. To my surprise, I found a tattered paperback copy of The Beverly Malibu (1989) on the shelves of my very own sweetie's bookcaseright next to Patricia Cornwell!?!
The Beverly Malibu went through four printings by 1994. Naiad Press published it and three other mysteries by Forrest before she moved into the (semi) big time. Sleeping Bones is the third novel by Forrest that is published by Berkley Crime Press, which is part of Berkley Publishing, which is a division of Penguin Putnam. When I started working for a bookstore this hierarchy of publishing confused me too, but let's just say Penguin Putnam is like the Disney or RJR of the publishing world: they own a lot. Naiad Press, on the other hand, while a wonderful opportunity for new lesbian writers, is more like, well, some distributing company you've never heard of. What this means to me is that she might actually be pretty good. The Beverly Malibu won the Lambda Book Award when it was released and included reviews for the previous book, Murder at the Nightwood Bar, from Ms. magazine, and Publisher's Weekly as well as various gay newspapers. Out! magazine declared "...a powerful read and has a positively explosive ending..."; I don't know if I'd go as far as 'explosive' when describing the two novels I read, but they were definitely entertaining.
The Beverly Malibu begins with a corpse, as you might expect, but Forrest manages to weave an interesting story connecting him to the other tenants in the building. The last of an era of old Hollywood's garish taste and plentiful money, The Beverly Malibu has fallen prey to rent-control, and is flanked by towering, new apartment buildings with little time for the aging actresses, screen writers and producers that reside in their crumbling neighborhood. As the story unfolds, we learn about the movie industry's ties to Communist activities in the 1950s. Each of the occupants was in some way affected by the House investigation on "un-American activities." The corpse, however, seems to be the only 'stool pigeon' in the group. Now it's up to LAPD Detective Kate Delafield and her latest unsuspecting partner, Ed, to solve the crime. At their assistance is landlady Hazel Turner, complete with four urns of husband Jerome in tow. "I got tired of carrying him from room to room. So I got these and put him in every room. I get him all together when we need a council of war." Also of interest is Paula Grant, with her dozens of framed women's movie posters, including a very contemporary Desert Hearts. Then there's Paula's beautiful niece, Aimee, who can't seem to keep her eyes off Kate...
Fast forward about a decade to Forrest's latest, Sleeping Bones. Called to the scene to investigate the stabbing murder of an old man visiting the La Brea Tar Pits, Kate uncovers a mystery decades old, a scandal that has rocked the world of paleontology on an international scale. This time, readers will learn about the history of humanity, the disappearance of some of the oldest human bones ever unearthed, and the political implications of solving that mystery. Knee deep in department bureaucracy, Kate meets Peri Layton, a paleontologist herself, and the daughter of the deceased. It's obvious that something sticky, I mean fishy, is going on and Kate's determined to solve the crime. Unfortunately, she has a more personal mystery to solve as well, in the form of a long-lost brother. But who needs sleep when there's an autopsy to attend?
Humorous and well-researched with unpredictable endings, both of Forrest's mysteries are fun to read and hard to put down. She even includes just the right amount of great sex and personal life information, too. Despite my non-crime solving status, I did actually yell at the characters out loud a few times, definitely a sign that I was drawn into the story more than a little bit. In the words of Ms. reviewer Carolyn Hellbrun, "you don't have to be gay to enjoy it, just intelligent." Patricia Cornwell beware, Katherine Forrest may steal more than ten percent of your readers! Enjoy!
Rebecca James is the Assistant Manager of Browseabout Books on Rehoboth Avenue. She thinks that her sisters may also be creatures from the black lagoon, but mom won't tell.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 14, Oct. 15, 1999