Light Before Dark - Christopher Rice

Ladymol's Review

Phew. There were times when I thought that this was the best novel weíve read so far. Itís edgy, contemporary, intriguing, beautifully written, full of gay content, great hero, great premise. But then it sort of lost me. Okay, Iím not particularly into mystery novels, so Iím not really experienced in this genre, but there were so many red-herrings, so many alternative scenarios that I got totally lost and confused and when the denouement came, instead of being hard-hitting it sort of plumped down into my exhausted brain.

Adam is an alcoholic cocaine addict. Not a promising hero. He is recovering from a weird relationship with a man called Corey and from the death of his mother, also an alcoholic. He works for a sleazy gay rag in West LA, wanting to be a proper investigative journalist, actually doing write-ups for underwear ads. His drinking is so out of control he has begun to black out and wake up in places he doesnít know with people he canít remember.

One day a sometime friend comes to him and spills him a story about being thrown out of a car. The man who threw him was a Marine Corps pilot who, the next day, ditched his helicopter into the sea, killing himself and his four crew members. Adam begins to investigate why the married pilot was in West LA with a known porn star in his car.

The twists and turns are quite mind numbing. The more Adam investigates, the more horrific the truth appears to be. It seems to be more intimately concerned with him and his lifestyle than he could ever imagine. He decides to go sober, and just does, the case consuming him. And gradually he begins to grow from the damaged boy he was into something quite special, winning the trust and respect from an eclectic cast of friends along the way.

The characters in the novel are wonderfully drawn. I particularly liked Jimmy the best-selling novelist who hires Adam to research the case.

I couldnít put this book down for the first two thirds. For the last I was struggling with it, not from any fault of the book but from my total inability to keep up with the authorís twists and turns. I found the same in Riceís other book ĎThe Snow Gardení.†

Maybe I just need to give it another go.

This really is an excellent novel and well worth reading, gay or straight.


Cerisaye's Review

The book wasnít at all what I expected, having just recently enjoyed the distinctly gothic tones of A DENSITY OF SOULS, Riceís debut novel set in New Orleans. This one is a thriller in the mystery genre favoured by the likes of Joseph Hansen.† It features an openly gay investigative journalist and is set in West Hollywood, heart of the gay community, then Californiaís Central Valley (between LA and San Francisco).† Itís a contemporary development of the milieu Dave Brandstetter found so troubling in his later cases. A land in the grip apparently of the plague thatís crystal meth addiction, with devastating consequences to everything it touches.

This is a big story, with a large cast of characters who appear and disappear all over the place and a complicated twisting plot I found quite difficult to keep straight in my mind- I frequently had to retrace my steps to refresh my memory re events and people. It would really pay dividends to read the novel without interruption I think to help get round this problem. Partly itís in the writing, a compelling first person narrative, interspersed by occasional third person chapters that muddy the waters in an attempt to get round the limitations of main character Adam not being in a position to see/hear everything, and moved along with rather clunky chunks of exposition and swathes of backstory.

Then remember Rice is only 27 and clearly growing into his craft, as evidenced by the change of direction represented by this latest effort- which has really divided critics and fans alike.

Sometimes you feel the obviously considerable research that went into the book rather bogs down the pace of the story. Thereís a confusing conspiracy plot involving a series of explosions in trailer park meth labs, a child sex ring, a disappearance possibly linked to a series of murders of gay men by a killer dubbed the West Hollywood Slasher, gays in the military, and a handsome vigilante known as El Maricon. Then thereís the whole gay culture angle and bubbling along underneath it all a heartfelt exposť of drug abuse in the gay community, part of a destructive streak with roots in homophobia and self-hate, characterised by Adamís tweaker porn star friend, Nate Bain. Somehow all this comes together eventually and not entirely convincingly, despite an attempt to explain everything and tie up loose ends at the end.

Itís the characters that knit together an over-complicated mystery thriller elements into a very human story of one manís journey to sobriety and self-acceptance. Thereís romance too, though pretty much in the background.

One of many good things about this book is a relationship between Adam the main character and James Wilton, a hardboiled writer of detective mysteries who takes him under his wing with a paternal concern I found very moving. Itís particularly important to have this mentor-pupil set-up in a story that controversially explores the issue of paedophilia and under-age sex. James is straight and Adam is gay, and thereís nothing between them but growing affection, effectively showing how an older man can have a positive influence on a younger one in need of guidance and help. Rice makes clear the distinction between gayness, which is natural and normal, and paedophilia which is perversion, something that's essential I think in any book or film dealing with gay themes and characters covering this always controversial issue.

I hope this is the first in a series, following Adam and his employer James the novelist, with room to develop the tentative relationship that emerges in the final pages of this book. I liked Adam, and wanted him to be happy. He shouldnít be lonely.

Iíve mentioned flaws but they didnít detract from my enjoyment of the novel. I think weíre seeing a new kind of gay writing, unconcerned with angsting over the fact of being gay and unafraid to represent gay villains and the darker side of gay life. If you like thrillers and mysteries then give this novel a go.

Buy from Lambda in the States