Book Review: Idyll Threats by Stephanie Gayle

Idyll ThreatsIdyll Threats
A Thomas Lynch Novel
Stephanie Gayle
Seventh Street Books, September 2015
ISBN 978-1-63388-078-8
Trade Paperback

When I first heard about this mystery novel, I was immediately intrigued, for a number of reasons. First, it takes place in 1997, and I was fascinated by the idea of exploring this time. Historical novels aren’t unusual, but setting a book in the recent past isn’t something you find that often. 1997 is not quite twenty years ago, so we’re just beginning to be able to get some perspective on it, and I was interested to read Gayle’s take on that. Second, the book features a middle-aged homicide cop with more than fifteen years experience, who has left gritty New York City to become the police chief for a very small town named Idyll, Connecticut. There’s a mystery already – why would someone do that? And third, the protagonist, Thomas Lynch, happens to be gay.

Idyll Threats was no disappointment. I was hooked from the very beginning, when Thomas leaves the station on a Saturday night, feeling very alone. Although he has been living in Idyll for a number of months, he has not managed to settle in it all. He has not formed friendships, doesn’t feel at home in the house he bought, can’t seem to build good relationships with his staff, and, very importantly, Thomas is not comfortable letting anyone in town know that he’s gay.

As he sits alone in his vehicle, mulling all of this over, a car passes by him going well over the speed limit. When Thomas pulls the driver over, the encounter is not what he expected, and this sets in motion events that will influence the rest of the story. When a murder occurs, Thomas is not able to investigate it the way he wants to.

In many ways, this is a conventionally hard-boiled mystery. The language is tough but at times poetic, and Thomas is terse and often uncommunicative. He is a loner, isolated and tormented by events in his New York City past. There is a lot of swearing, there are explicit sexual scenes, and there is also a description of the violent death of an animal that I had to skip over. However, with the setting – both the time period and the little town – and with Thomas’s struggles with his sexual orientation, Gayle manages to inject some very refreshing twists into this genre.

Thomas is not without a sense of humour, and his view of Idyll, with its small-town characters, manners, traditions, and festivals, was very funny. Coming from such a big city, Thomas is extremely ill at ease with the silence and slower pace of his new home, and the sections where he is forced to participate in the town’s biggest festival, Idyll Days, were highly entertaining.

I can’t remember when political correctness really took hold, but Thomas Lynch in 1997 is not politically correct. He insists on being gay the way he is gay, and not in ways that people think gay men should necessarily act. Thomas is a very complicated man, and this was one of the aspects of the book that I most appreciated. His background and family turned out to be not what I expected. He has made many mistakes, perhaps especially with his former partner in New York.

The book revolves not only around the solving of the murder, but also around Thomas coming to terms with the various decisions he’s made in his life that have led him to Idyll. I found the way Gayle handled all of these complex aspects of development to be believable, and I liked the immediacy of her writing. I am not sure if this is meant to be the beginning of a series or a standalone, but I would welcome more stories about Thomas Lynch. Gayle has succeeded in creating a character that’s easy to sympathize with when even when he’s unlikeable, and there is much more to explore here if she chooses to do so.

Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, October 2015.

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