The Back Passage - James Lear

Ladymol's Review

At last, a new novel by one of my favourite authors. We’ve read several of Lear’s “so-called” porn books. I say “so-called” because I’m of the opinion that writing this good, despite how much yummy sex the book contains, shouldn’t really be called porn. And he does it again in this one – I wish I knew his secret! This book stands alone as a good country house thriller – you know the sort of thing: house guest discovers a body; everyone in the house is a suspect…. It’s a great read, written with tongue-in-cheek humour all the way through. And, added to a great mystery, you have the sex…. Phew, Lear can write humour and plot, but when he writes sex he shifts into another gear. You get every quirk and position and all written with sheer fun and delight. He describes sex scenes like you choreograph them in your head sometimes. They’re never up and in and out; you have deliciously sexy foreplay and genuine titillation that lifts each scene way above the often mechanistic level of porn.

The hero of the book, Mitch, is an American in England at a country house weekend because he’s desperately trying to seduce his college chum Boy Morgan. The novel is packed with really amusing American views on the English and delightfully non-PC class distinctions. Mitch has a fondness for the “lower orders” and scenes with the local bobby (policeman) and chauffeur really hit the spot if you harbour latent servant/master fantasies. The mystery deepens around him until Mitch’s life is in serious jeopardy. Can he win Boy from his fiancée and save him from a life of heterosexual gloom? Can he solve the mystery and free the innocent butler? 

Buy this and add to you James Lear collection. It’s just about perfect.

Cerisaye's Review

This is the 3rd novel by James Lear I’ve read (Palace of Varieties, The Low Road) and each one has been a delight.  It’s a mystery with a classic country house setting like something out of Agatha Christie but with one BIG difference, LOTS (and I do mean that) of gay sex. Honestly, our detective hero spends more time out of his tweeds (or is it flannels?) than in them!

American amateur sleuth Edward “Mitch” Mitchell gets to grips with solving the mysterious death of Reg Walsworth, discovered in a cupboard in the country retreat of Sir James Eagle whose daughter Brenda is engaged to “Boy” Morgan, a Cambridge colleague of Mitch’s.  Boy is a hunky athletic type, ostensibly straight, with a yen for intimate entanglements that provide release denied by contemporary moral strictures- at least in public, for in reality Drekeham Hall is a den of iniquity.

 The Back Passage (great title) is a secret corridor linking the bedrooms of staff and the Eagle family, Sir James and devilish brother Leonard, in a hotbed of gay sex…and love too, crossing class barriers- even more taboo in 1925.

Mitch is the American (except with his rampant, ever-ready libido maybe NOT so) innocent abroad.  As a sleuth he’s rather more concerned with satisfying lusty impulses (particularly towards Boy Morgan) than solving the crime that threatens the life of Charlie Meeks, the servant held in police custody on suspicion of murder.  The police are in the pocket of Sir James but Mitch finds a useful ally. 

Class is more divisive and exclusive than sexuality in this wonderfully explicit orgy of gay sex.  Mitch is a likeable, self-deprecating narrator, whose prodigious appetites will satisfy the most demanding taste for literary erotica that is well written as well as arousing.  It’s stylish, explicit and a lot of fun.  Doesn’t take itself too seriously yet follows conventions of the genre. 

This book (and the others by Lear) makes a very welcome change from the depressing kind of gay novel.  Lear celebrates sex with a passion that’s infectious.  Gay sex is all too often a source of shame, guilt and emotional turmoil.  There IS a need for serious novels about gay life & experience but it’s equally necessary to balance that with the kind of exuberant uninhibited joy with which Lear shows it’s not all gloom & doom, not now and likely never was:  throughout history men have found ways & means, usually, like Boy Morgan in this story, by leading a double life that doesn’t necessarily mean unhappiness (if they pick an understanding woman with her own life to lead) in a marriage of convenience. 

If you’re looking for an amusing romp with plenty of hot action this is it.  Jolly japes and a happy ending.  I loved it (it has a beautiful cover) and hope Lear plans a sequel to continue the romance that develops for Mitch in a rather unexpected corner.  Has our Queer Poirot found his Hastings?  Highly recommended.