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Snowball in Hell

Snowball in Hell, April 2011
by Josh Lanyon

Carina Press
Featuring: Nathan Doyle; Matthew Spain
ISBN: 1426891393
EAN: 9781426891397
Hardcover
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"A Perfect Blend of Noir Mystery and Gay Romance"

Fresh Fiction Review

Snowball in Hell
Josh Lanyon

Reviewed by Lisa Watts
Posted April 3, 2011

Historical | Gay / Lesbian Mystery | Romance Gay

It's 1943 and a dead body is found face-down in a tar pit in Los Angeles. Lieutenant Mathew Spain is at the crime scene when he meets reporter Nathan Doyle for the first time. Matt feels an instant attraction to the young man that he tries hard to ignore. When Nathan joins the growing suspect list he decides the only way to prove his innocence is to solve the crime himself. The two eventually find themselves working together, facing mortal danger and fighting their mutual feelings. Both their lives and their careers are on the line.

Many of Lanyon's books have common elements and reoccurring themes, and SNOWBALL IN HELL is no exception. The novella focuses on two of his staple characters and a prevalent story line, a writer and a cop brought together by a crime who find themselves fighting their attraction to each other. However, even though the setup is similar to many of his other stories, the plot is unique and engaging.

The main characters of the story are well developed and highly likable. Nathan is a young journalist who, although he needs protecting, has a stubborn streak and a dry wit. Matt is a cop who is protective of Nathan even as he fights his feelings. Lanyon does a good job of generating sympathy for them; they come across as real people that are at a difficult point in their lives because of circumstances beyond their control.

SNOWBALL IN HELL is a wonderful blend of mystery and romance. The relationship between the main characters grows at a slow, steady pace and is much more believable than the instant attraction and pursuit that is common in many romance novels. In a time where homosexuality is considered a crime, these two men have a lot to overcome to be together. Their relationship is intense and unbelievably sweet. Lanyon is a fantastic mystery writer, and this one is very solid. It accurately reflects the Noir mysteries of the time in its lean, direct writing style and dark realism, and the clues will keep you guessing right up until the end. This novella is a perfect example of why Lanyon's stories are so addictive.

Learn more about Snowball in Hell

SUMMARY

Los Angeles, 1943

Reporter Nathan Doyle had his reasons to want Phil Arlen dead, but when he sees the man's body pulled from the La Brea tar pit, he knows he'll be the prime suspect. He also knows that his life won't stand up to intense police scrutiny, so he sets out to crack the case himself.

Lieutenant Matthew Spain's official inquiries soon lead him to believe that Nathan knows more than he's saying. But that's not the only reason Matt takes notice of the handsome journalist. Matt's been drawn to men before, but he must hide his true feelings—or risk his entire career.

As Nathan digs deeper, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay one step ahead of Matt Spain—and to deny his intense attraction to him. Nathan's secrets may not include murder, but has his hunt put him right in the path of the real killer?

Previously published, newly revised by author.

Excerpt

"Hell of a thing," Jonesy said for the third time.

Matt agreed. It was a hell of a thing. He turned his gaze from the gaggle of reporters smoking and talking beside the grouping of snarling cement saber-toothed tigers, and returned his attention to the sticky, bedraggled corpse currently watching the birdie for the police photographer.

Whoever had dumped the dead man had counted on the body sinking in the black ooze of the Brea Pits, and in the heat of the summer when the tar heated up and softened…maybe. But it was December, a little more than a week before Christmas, and it had been raining steadily for two days. No chance in hell. The body had rested there, facedown in the rainwater hiding the treacherous crust of tar beneath, until the museum paleontologists excavating the site for fossils had made the grisly early-morning discovery.

"Looks kinda familiar," Jonesy remarked gloomily, as the plastered hair and drowned eyes were briefly illuminated in the white flash of the camera.

Matt bit back a laugh. "Yeah? Must be the fact that he’s dead."

Jonesy looked reproachful, although after thirty-three years on the homicide squad, he’d seen more than his share of stiffs. They both had, though Matt had seen more violent death and destruction during his seven months in the Pacific than he had in his eleven years on the force.

"No identification on him at all?"

"Nope. Even the label was cut out of his jacket. No sign of his hat or shoes."

Matt considered this. Soaking in water and tar hadn’t done John Doe’s clothes much good, and they’d have to wait ’til everything dried before they could hope to get much from an examination. How much they would get then was doubtful, but that suit didn’t look particularly old or worn, and the tailoring was the kind that showed its worth even in the worst conditions—which these were.

Laughter drifted from the circle of statues where the reporters and a couple of photographers waited impatiently. Matt knew most of them: Williams from "The Peach," Mackey from the Times, Cohen from the Mirror and Tara Renee of the Examiner. The only one he didn’t recognize was the slim man lighting Tara’s cigarette. Thin brown fingers cupped the lighter against the damp breeze; lean, tanned cheek creased in a smile as Tara flirted with him. Tara flirted with everyone, but she was a good little crime hound.

"Who’s that?" Matt asked Jonesy, and Jonesy looked up from the meticulous diagrams he was making of the crime scene and followed Matt’s stare.

"Doyle. Tribune-Herald. Heard he was with the Eighth Army in North Africa ’til he picked up a case of lead poisoning." Jonesy grinned his lopsided smile. "Got hit by machine-gun fire in Tunisia."

"Yeah, well, there’s a lot of that going around." But Matt’s interest was unwillingly caught. "So he’s English?"

"Nah. Hometown boy, Loot."

"Doc’s here, Lieutenant," one of the uniformed officers said as the police ambulance bumped its way over the grassy verge.

Matt nodded and then nodded again toward the reporters. "Tell ’em I want to see Miss Renee and…" He thought it over. "Doyle."

When he glanced back, Jonesy was giving him an old- fashioned look.

"What’s that for?" He’d known Jonesy a long time; Jonesy had been Matt’s old man’s partner. Back then he’d been big and rawboned with a shock of red hair and a face full of freckles. The hair was gray now, and the freckles had faded into a permanently ruddy complexion, but he was still one of the best detectives on the force—sometimes Matt was afraid Jonesy was too good a detective.

"She’s a firecracker, that dame. Can’t understand why any woman would want the police beat."

"I guess she got tired of garden parties and ladies’ fashion." He watched the uni approach the reporters. Heard the protests of the men from the Daily News, the Times and the Mirror. Watched Doyle’s surprise at the summons. Doyle looked past the officer and caught Matt’s gaze. Matt held it for a moment, then looked away, jotting down a few more crime scene details in his notebook. From the tire tracks, it looked like whoever dumped Mr. Doe into the goo had driven as close as he safely could to the water’s edge. Maybe that meant something, maybe not.

Out of the corner of his eye Matt could see Tara and Doyle crossing the soggy grass toward him. Tara’s heels sank into the mud, and Doyle cupped a chivalrous hand beneath her elbow, which amused Matt in a sour way. Tara either had designs on Doyle or thought she could get something out of him—anyone else would have been handed his arm back half-chewed.

"Doesn’t look like he drowned," Jonesy was saying.

"He didn’t drown," Matt replied.

The police ambulance rolled to a stop and parked in the weeds and mud. Across the field and through the trees Matt could see oil derricks slowly bowing and scraping against the leaden sky.

"What a smell!" Matt heard Tara exclaim, and the other reporter, Doyle, said, "Bitumen." He had a quiet voice, and Matt only caught his reply because he was listening for it.

"Hello, Lieutenant," Tara said, and Matt turned to face her. "To what do we owe this honor?" Tara was a very pretty girl with glossy black curls, sparkling dark eyes, rosy cheeks and a little pointed chin that she wagged too much. But somehow Matt didn’t like to shut her up. Maybe because she reminded him a little of Rachel.

"Miss Renee," he said gravely. He glanced at her companion. "You’re Doyle from the Tribune-Herald?"

"That’s right." Beneath the khaki trench coat, Doyle was medium height and very thin. His hair, what Matt could see of it beneath his wide-brimmed hat, was very fair—sun bleached. He had the overlay of tan that comes from years spent under a blazing sun, but beneath it he was sallow. His eyes were light, maybe blue, maybe gray—unexpectedly bright in his lean face. He studied Matt curiously.

"We’ve got a little problem," Matt said to Tara. "I thought you might be able to help." She gave him a pert, inquiring look, and Matt stepped aside so they could get a look at John Doe. "Either of you recognize him?"

He was watching Doyle. Not because he expected Doyle to recognize the dead guy—he didn’t figure Doyle had been back in town long enough to be of much use there—he was just giving him a break after Tunisia. Doyle glanced down at the corpse with the weary indifference of a man who’s seen too much death—and froze.

There wasn’t any mistake. Doyle’s blue-gray eyes widened. He went perfectly still, apparently forgetting to breathe.

Next to him, Tara gasped, and Matt automatically turned his attention, thinking a drowned man was too much for her first thing after breakfast. "Phil Arlen," she murmured. She raised her dark eyes. "That’s Philip Arlen."

Jonesy gave a low whistle.

Matt asked, "Benedict Arlen’s kid?"

"I’m sure of it."

Matt could feel the echo of her words rippling through the ranks of the crime-scene men. Benedict Arlen was old money, oil money.

Matt looked back at Doyle, but Doyle had recovered himself. He met Matt’s gaze and agreed evenly, "It’s Arlen."

"You knew him?"

"I went to school with Bob. His brother. Robert Arlen."

"The old school tie," Matt said dryly. "Was that high school or college?"

"Loyola High School. Loyola University."

Catholic, Matt thought. Jesuit trained. Not that it mattered to him. He hadn’t given a damn before the war, and he sure as hell thought the world should have learned something about hate by now.

The coroner joined their little tableau. Doc Mason was a beanpole of a man in a black raincoat. As usual, he was smoking a pipe, the pleasant homely scent carried on the rainswept breeze helping to mask other, less pleasant, odors. "Okay for me to get to work, Lieutenant?"

"He’s all yours," Matt said. "The crime scene was contaminated from the minute the professors pulled him out of the drink."

Doyle was watching him with those light, alert eyes.

"What a scoop!" Tara said. "And here I thought it was a slow week for news."

"When was the last time you saw Phil Arlen?" Matt asked Doyle.

Doyle shrugged. "It’s been a while."

"Nathan’s only been home a couple of weeks," Tara said. "He was a war correspondent in North Africa. He was wounded at Medenine." She made it sound like Doyle had done something especially clever. Yep, she was interested in Doyle all right.

At the same time Matt could feel Doyle’s discomfort, his desire to shut Tara up. Matt could have told him to save his strength.

"Had enough for one war?" he asked, not unsympathetically.

"So they tell me," Doyle said.

"Lieutenant Spain was on Guadalcanal," Tara put in ruthlessly. "He took two bullets in the leg."

"Now I can predict rain." Matt held out his hand as a fat drop hit his nose, and Doyle laughed. He had an easy, rather husky laugh. Matt found himself smiling back, but he wasn’t forgetting Doyle’s shocked reaction to the body of Phil Arlen. Of course that could have been the jolt of a John Doe turning out to be someone he knew—but if he instantly recognized Phil Arlen waterlogged and streaked in mud and tar, he must have seen him fairly recently. And as far as Matt knew, the closest Arlen had come to the front lines was watching newsreels in the front row of Grauman’s.

"Have you found any shells?" Doyle asked, watching the coroner. Tara did a double take.

"You’ve got sharp eyes," Matt commented. And now Doyle had attracted Jonesy’s attention too.

"He was shot?" Tara asked.

"He was shot all right," Doc Mason said, getting to his feet. "Twenty-two caliber maybe, fairly close range. Must have hit the sternum and ricocheted around inside. There’s no exit wound." He chewed on his pipe stem. "Something funny here."

Aware of two very quiet and very attentive reporters, Matt said, "Fill me in later."

Doc nodded. "We better get him inside."

The rain began to patter down as a couple of men lifted Arlen’s body onto a stretcher and carried him across the grass to the waiting ambulance. The morning smelled of rain and asphalt and pipe tobacco.

A couple of yards away the other reporters had moved from grumbling to outright sedition.

"Okay, thanks for your help." Matt nodded dismissal to Nathan Doyle and Tara.

"You’re not making a statement?" Doyle asked.

"Lieutenant Spain never allows himself to be rushed," Tara informed him, and Matt shook his head a little at her.

His eyes met Doyle’s again, and a smile tugged at Doyle’s mouth.

"Welcome to the neighborhood, Mr. Doyle," Matt said.

"Thanks." Despite the smile, there was a shadowy look to Doyle’s eyes, the kind of fatigue that didn’t have anything to do with lack of sleep or months in a hospital. There was no question which beat Doyle would have preferred to be covering.

"Come on," Tara said, and she linked her arm in Doyle’s. "The royal audience is at an end."

Sardonically, Matt watched her shepherd Doyle, the two of them hoofing straight for the main gate, skirting their clustered colleagues who threw friendly and not-so-friendly jeers and insults after them. Lights flashing, the coroner’s ambulance rumbled past them, splashing through the pools of muddy water as it turned the opposite way, heading for the rear entrance of the park.

"That Doyle’s an interesting fella," Jonesy remarked.

Matt said nothing, turning back to face the silvery- black pool.

For a moment he and Jonesy stood there. Matt was thinking about the unpleasant task before him: informing Benedict Arlen that his youngest child was dead. Kind of ironic when everyone knew Arlen had paid a small fortune to keep the kid out of the draft. And now he was dead. Murdered. He might have had a better chance dodging bullets overseas.

As he watched, a giant bubble of methane gas formed on the watery surface of the pit, expanded and dissipated in a silent gooey pop.

"Disrespectful, tossing the Arlen kid in that muck," Jonesy said reflectively.

"Homicide’s disrespectful," Matt replied.


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