Title: The Glass-House Murder
Author: T. Nielson
Publisher: JMS Books
Pages/Word Count: 156 Pages
Rating: 4 Stars
Blurb: Meet Lord Henry Carlisle: gentleman, wastrel, and mystery-novel lover.
When his mother telephones him on a May evening to tell him they’ve just discovered a body in the glass-house, Hal does what he loves to do: he goes to investigate. As it happens, the local constabulary, headed by an unusually well-spoken, well-educated fellow named Sayers, is already on the case, and Sayers is a bit of a mystery all on his own.
When the constabulary finally identifies the victim in the glass-house, Hal realizes this is not just an academic exercise in logic and justice; it’s a personal and family matter.
Review: Historical mysteries are a weakness of mine – gay historical mysteries even more so (sorry, Cadfael – I do love you, but not as passionately). Having devoured Charlie Cochrane’s entire Cambridge Fellows series, I’ve been on the lookout for more and newer titles to absorb. Unfortunately they’re a rare species; if historical gay fiction is an infrequent indulgence, historical gay mysteries are worse. Snatching up T. Neilson’s mystery novel the moment it was released was a no-brainer, and it also proved to be worth every minute of my time spent ignoring chores and real life for three days straight.
References to the Great War (WWI) set the book in the Interwar Period, and we do get a taste of the smaller but no less devastating effects of the war on some of the characters. Whether by death, physical disability, or psychological trauma, the horrible aftermath is never ignored despite peacetime, and that firmly grounds the book into its chosen era.
As the main character, Hal’s a bit of a charmer with a touch of the rogue, but he’s also carefully written with a number of under-layers that reveal themselves in increments as the story progresses. Though at first shown to be the typical blasé aristo while in London, the sharp juxtaposition of his beloved urban haunts with his country home, where he’s spent his childhood, shows us a deeper and more serious connection Hal has with the city. It’s his retreat, really, the only place where he feels the most secure, surrounded by other men like him: gay men who’re just as complex and varied in personalities and tastes as their straight counterparts but are considered criminals under British law. He offers many of them some refuge and comfort when their partners turn against them, leaving them physically and emotionally beaten. Because people like him have no recourse when things get rough, Hal’s almost like an aristocratic superhero engaging in clandestine operations.
Hal enjoys a wonderfully close relationship (professional and friendly, of course) with his faithful valet, Beard, and a number of scenes involving the two mirror the light, quirky connection between Bertie Wooster and Reginald Jeeves. In fact, Wodehouse’s books are cheekily referenced in a scene with these two. Much to Neilson’s credit, Hal is at least not flighty and clueless like Wooster, but the banter’s there, and Beard proves himself to be highly indispensable to his employer. It also provides a sad reflection on the state of Hal’s relationships, that he only has his valet (beside his sister, Vivian) to lean on for very delicate matters – a sad reflection of the kind of life gay men and lesbians are forced to lead. In this respect, nothing about the unjust nature of British law is prettied up for the modern reader, and it finds its most heartbreaking effects in the lives of side characters like Simon and Caroline.
William Sayers comes along about halfway through the book, and until that point, we only see Hal’s point of view. In a way, waiting till William’s entrance for us to be treated to his POV makes sense, but the sudden and unexpected shift so late in the book jarred me a bit. That said, it proved to be a good decision in the end because through Will’s eyes, we get to see another angle to Hal’s story and the two men’s past. It’s also through the weaving of Will’s POV into the book that we see the romance between the two bloom, as well as the mystery’s solution slowly unveil itself. If one were to regard the book as something like an origin story, Will’s late introduction and the resulting additional POV certainly make sense.
The murder and its sordid back story is a fairly conventional one, though I don’t find myself all that convinced about the motive behind the murder. There were a few questions raised in my mind as I read through the final climactic scenes involving the grand reveal – small plot holes, if you will, that left me going, “Hmm… well… I don’t know.” But in the end it didn’t bother me as much because the personal angle easily overruns any niggling issues I might have with the book. And the mystery is a very personal one for Hal, not so much in terms of blood relations and neighbors but in a bigger, greater sense involving an already marginalized community. One can’t help but sympathize with Hal at the end of the book when he’s so emotionally worn down by everything that’s happened that he feels the desperate need to flee back to London.
The way the book ends also sets us up for a possible mystery series, and I dearly hope Neilson pursues this. The Glass-House Murder is a great addition to the too-short list of gay historical mystery titles, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d love to see this sub-genre flourish.
You can buy The Glass-House Murder here: