The Glory Hole Murders - Tony Fennelly
You have to love a title like that, don’t you? I mean, doesn’t just the thought of a glory hole make you shudder, either from excitement or from the horror of what men risk by doing that! Eeks. Well, even if you do have a very vivid imagination, nothing could prepare you for the horror of what happens to the men in this book when they risk that moment of thrill.
However (and here is where I had real problems with this book) the whole thing is told with the very amusing, rapier-like wit of Matty Sinclair, an ex-public defender, hired by the cops to investigate the case. Horror and comedy make for uneasy bedfellows, and as this book is genuinely very funny, the slightly camp humour dilutes the horror. Which rather troubled me. More than the horror of the murders being diluted, however, was a theme of child abuse that was genuinely disturbing. Yet this, too, was treated with humour. I couldn’t decide how I was supposed to take the book and that made for uneasy reading at times. My unease wasn’t helped by the very dated way it came over. Written in the 80s, it seemed more 50s sometimes. Both women and black people are stigmatised in a way that just makes you uncomfortable reading it.
Matty, old New Orleans moneyed family, owns a furniture store. He lives with a twink called Robin who doubles as servant and sex-toy—a very convenient relationship for both of them. I was waiting for the relationship to develop into something more sincere, as they are both intelligent, witty and clearly enjoying each other, but it never really did. I almost felt as if the author was making anti-gay statements throughout, for he shows Matty having more pleasure with women than with Robin.
Hunting the killer becomes formulaic—not particularly a criticism—as Matty questions everyone and anyone with cause to see the victim dead. There are lots of red herrings and side-stories, including an assassination attempt on Matty’s life. Finally the killer is revealed.
I would say borrow this book rather than buy it, but it makes for a quick, entertaining read.
Matty Sinclair isn’t the kind of gay character that normally attracts me. He’s a stereotypical, cynical queen living with a barely legal golden-haired twink more girl than boy. Matty owns a fancy furniture shop and resembles the arbiters of good taste on a show like Queer Eye.
I was surprised by all the het sex in the novel. Though Matty isn’t bi, he says, just gay with occasional slip-ups, not averse to a tumble with an attractive female. Still, he gets more passionate about dispensing wardrobe advice than doing the deed. I wasn’t convinced these rolls in the hay were anything more than his way of giving comfort to a needy woman, another sign of immaturity.
Matty comes from an old New Orleans family down on its luck. He used to work in the DA’s office as a successful prosecutor but gave that up because he didn’t want to live in the closet anymore. It’s 1986, so fear of AIDS means Matty has one partner on the go- or so he says, that he’s not looking for love just a good- safe- time, hence the jailbait warming his bed in that nice old house in the French Quarter.
When a body is found in a toilet cubicle in the backroom of a gay bar, the NOPD officer in charge calls ex colleague Matty to help with the case. It’s a gruesome murder scene. I’ll never watch glory hole sequences without being queasy.
HD Loomis was rich and respectable, on his way up and liked by all, political office beckoning. So what was this straight family man doing in a sleazy bar with his pants down, and why should somebody want him not only dead but suffering truly horribly first? Matty digs the dirt on Loomis, working from inside the gay community, and the police happily leave him to it, which stretches credulity.
Bodies mount up and Matty gets increasingly involved, to great personal danger, on his way to identifying the killer. Matty’s a snob and a bitch who says he’s into serial monogamy but cheats on helpmeet Robin with a young Adonis in an exclusive gays only club, a haven for the closeted- such details give the novel good period feel.
The story becomes increasingly preposterous. Robin is annoying and underused. When dad arrives from California looking for his estranged son it means trouble for Matty. The resolution didn’t convince me, just too neat and easy.
Matty is charming, smart and likeable but the novel lacks the relationship dynamics that draw you into a story. Also emotional depth and character development. Matty’s lifestyle is shallow and demeaning. He isn’t a kid any more and young Robin wasted playing housekeeper. Maybe they will grow up together in a sequel?
I was unsettled by the mix of frothy reading with disturbing images of sexual violence, more so by lost innocence resulting from child abuse, too readily dismissed and treated in a way that made me very uncomfortable, particularly given the nature of Matty’s current relationship. Maybe I’m thinking too much about something intended as light reading, but the tone seemed off.
Not in the same league as Hansen, Stevenson, Rios or Lanyon, with a picture of gay life that confirms homophobic prejudices about gay men as style obsessed sexually voracious predators or victims whose lifestyle, either flamboyant or repressed, invites retribution.