Title: It Takes Two (Caloosa Club Mystery #1)
Author Name & Publisher: Elliott Mackle (Lethe Press)
Publication Date & Length: June 6, 2012 – 190 pgs
February, 1949. Fort Myers Florida. It started out to be such a nice day. But early morning gunfire at the Royal Plaza Motor Hotel changed all that. One white man is dead. One black man is dead. The widow of the white man has just crashed the investigation, and is waving a gun around. Barely escaping the shot that blows the window out of the car in which he is sitting is Dan Ewing, who isn’t even supposed to be there. Saving his bacon is police detective Bud Wright. Bud and Dan are more than fishing buddies, but no one can know that. But their secret is just one of many in this small town. To start, Dan is the manager of the Caloosa Hotel, a class act if you’re just passing through, but if you are a member of the less known Caloosa Club, Dan provides a variety of “services” club members may discreetly enjoy. This doesn’t sit well with everyone in town, including the sheriff, a wealthy car dealer, the KKK, and Bud Wright, despite the fact that he’s sleeping with Dan. But the car dealer is the dead white man, the black man is the husband of his wife’s former maid, and the sheriff, Bud’s boss seems determined to keep the investigation off track. So what does this apparent murder suicide have to do with the Caloosa? Journalist Elliott Mackle takes his wonderfully realized “why-done-it?’ mystery to fascinating levels as he explores the various factions of a small southern town facing the giant implications of a rapidly changing society.
Elliott Mackle served for ten years as the Atlanta Journal Constitution‘s restaurant critic. As a Journal-Constitution staffer he also covered the Olympic Games, political conventions and wrote a weekly travel feature. Hecurrently lives with his partner of many years in Atlanta. This is his first novel.
This is a well researched historical story full of colourful characters. The actual murder mystery isn’t terribly engaging (even the police detective seems to forget about it at times), but Florida in 1949 comes to life beautifully.
The more moving parts of this story involve the main character’s recent transition from army officer to civilian hotel manager. The war has left him traumatised but determined to find a life partner. The struggle for civil rights is at the centre of this story, be it for racial integration or for gay rights. Mackle’s characters are vibrant and diverse, though he has a tendency to write good guys and bad guys, ignoring the more complicated morality of most humans.
I loved Carmen, Tommy and Dan’s deliberately eccentric staff at the hotel. Dan is a great lead character, though I found him a little preachy at times. I struggled to warm to Bud which is problematic because I think I was supposed to love him.
I’ve given this four stars for some beautiful descriptive passages, a brilliant setting and great characters. The mystery didn’t really work for me. Even though readers are given enough information at the very start to figure out whodunnit, the author’s plot wandered enough that he needed to give readers the answers in a rushed, epilogue-style passage at the end of the story.
Elliott Mackle served four years in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam era, achieving the rank of captain. He was stationed in Italy, Libya and California, the latter the setting for WELCOME HOME, CAPTAIN HARDING, the third and final novel in the multiple-award-winning series that includes CAPTAIN HARDING’S SIX-DAY WAR and CAPTAIN HARDING AND HIS MEN. His first novel, IT TAKES TWO, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. The sequel, ONLY MAKE BELIEVE. was named Best Gay Mystery / Thriller of 2012 in the international Rainbow Awards competition. SUNSET ISLAND, third in the Caloosa Club Series, was published in January, 2015. HOT OFF THE PRESSES, a romantic expose of the racial and sexual politics surrounding the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, is based in part on Mackle’s adventures as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Then an AJC staff writer, he served as the newspaper’s dining critic for a decade, also reporting on military affairs, travel and the national restaurant scene. Mackle has written for Travel & Leisure, Food & Wine, the Los Angeles Times, Florida Historical Quarterly, Atlanta and Charleston magazines and was a longtime columnist at Creative Loafing, the southeast’s leading alternative newsweekly. He wrote and produced segments for Nathalie Dupree’s popular television series, New Southern Cooking, and authored a drama about gay bashing for Georgia Public Television. Along the way, he managed a horse farm, served as a child nutrition advocate for the State of Georgia, volunteered at an AIDS shelter, was founding co-chair of Emory University’s GLBT alumni association and taught critical and editorial writing at Georgia State University.