Title: A Prayer for the Dead (Deadly Mystery #7)
Author Name & Publisher: Victor J. Banis (Dreamspinner Press)
Publication Date & Length: September 2, 2015 – 200 pgs
A Tom and Stanley Novel – Continues the Deadly Mysteries Series published with MLR Press.
Does murder follow Tom and Stanley around, or do they follow the murders?
After a hospital stay, Stanley is invited by Father Brighton to convalesce at St. Marywood, an isolated monastery on the ocean cliffs of Big Sur. Upon arrival, Stanley finds Father Brighton dead. The order’s doctor writes it up as a death by natural causes, but those seem to be quite prevalent at the monastery. The recent demise of a young brother who fell from the cliffs is described as an accident, but Stanley’s nose is twitching. Plus the order’s finances have taken a sudden, mysterious turn for the better. Is something rotten at St. Marywood?
Stanley and Tom can’t resist digging around even if it means testing their tumultuous relationship against a gaggle of handsome, young, virginal, and—they are told—gay men.
I have very mixed reactions to this story.
Victor Banis’ sense of place in this story is beautifully written. There are moments when the prose reminds me of PD James’ evocative, finely crafted British mysteries. Murder in a cloistered community is not an uncommon event in English mystery writing. And Banis does this well.
Unfortunately, there are also moments when the story feels dated. At times Banis’ gay characters are reduced to leering double entendres and jock-strap sniffing. The closets in this series are American size walk-in dressing rooms. For a reader in 2015, there are conversations, stereotypes and judgements in this book which verge on homophobia. It might just be that the story feels out of it’s time. I would be more comfortable with this as a period piece set in the 1970s.
I enjoyed the actual murder mystery because I was unable to figure it out on my own. I understood the plot the moment the main character did – which is always what I want from a mystery. I loved the hints, clues and general suspicions that cloud Tom and Stanley’s judgements.
I was surprised to learn that Banis’ work was banned and considered indecent at one point in time. In this story there is a great deal of innuendo and awful lot of flirtation but any actual sex is skimmed over in the style of a 1970s Harlequin romance.
I enjoyed this because I enjoy classic British mysteries. I’m not sure I enjoy it as a contemporary m/m story. Aside from the naughty schoolboy gay humour, it reads much more like a PD James or Ruth Rendell novel than an AE Via, Xavier Mayne or Abigail Roux tale.
I enjoyed reading one of Victor J Banis’ books because he is one of the writers who made it possible for gay fiction to exist and thrive. I would urge any fans of m/m writing to take a look at some of Banis’ writing.
Victor J. Banis is a writer. Go here to read his own autobiographical sketch. It’s worth it.