BWW Reviews: THE HARDEST THING is Hard-Boiled Noir from Cleis Press
Sometimes, in the mystery world, all you long for is a good, old fashioned noir. The kind where a tough guy, licensed or not, gets to go through investigating something far too messy, far too complicated. There's someone way too attractive, way too available, and way too dangerous. Shots will be fired. Fists will be swung. Sex will be had. It will result in the sort of trouble a guy like that gumshoe should have expected, but at the wrong moment never does.
And it doesn't really matter if your hard-bitten, worse-for-wear, sage of the sidewalks and stakeouts is gay or straight. What you want is the trouble, the tried-and-true dark, hard-boiled formula. Spade, Archer, Marlowe. That's what we get in James Lear's THE HARDEST THING, new from Cleis Press. Dan Stagg, ex-Marine down on his luck, is that gumshoe here. Fired as a bar bouncer, now wondering if solid ex-Marine ass can make rent by selling itself, he's saved from the decision when he's asked to play bodyguard to a wealthy real estate developer's "secretary".
Yeah, that secretary. The one whose oral skills clearly don't involve giving or taking dic...tation. The one who's all looks, possibly no brains, and clearly no marketable skills that aren't best engaged horizontally. Here that "secretary" is a vain little thing with a high disdain for Stagg, who's too tough, too... everything... to be bothered with, when the goal is to stay alive after a shooting attempt, in order to get back to being kept by the real estate developer. Pretty, brainless, shooters on his tail, doesn't like Stagg one bit? Lear follows the rules we all know and love - we all know there's no way they won't wind up in the sack, and then it'll only get worse.
From Manhattan dives to New Hampshire hunting cabins, and back to city penthouses, Stagg and his charge duck hired killers only to encounter local creeps and thugs in the local underbellies where they're hiding. It's not always pretty - Lear writes an encounter with a couple of bullies in a rural New England gas station that's hot as hell but as politically correct as inviting a Greek nationalist thug to dinner with the ambassador. Oh yeah - the sex? It's there, and it's graphic, not prettified - hot, enough to suit readers who seek it, and relevant enough to the story to not feel shoveled in with a shoehorn to meet a content quota... but appropriate enough for mature readers of all stripes that, although it's mostly marketed to gay male readers, it should (even if you need to skim rather than peruse slowly) be fine for anyone who's there just to read a great mystery, too.