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Hot Rocks
Nick Hoffman series #7

by Lev Raphael

      Between terms is supposed to be relaxation time for State University of Michigan professor Nick Hoffman. Little chance, the way dead bodies seem to find him. This time, it's the man he's been sharing a health club steam room with, whose complete immobility eventually lures Nick into discovering that it's not just blissful relaxation from the steam.

Nick makes an easy prime suspect. He and the victim were alone together and it's well known that he's gay, while the deceased epitomized the body beautiful. The cops are sure they know what that means, Nick's long-standing and still loving relationship with Stefan notwithstanding. While he may not be wholly comfortable with the taste he's developed for investigating murders, this time Nick has to get involved, for his own sake. The results take him past the sleek surface of the health club culture into a world of corrupt privilege that is decidedly less healthy.

This is a refreshingly literate mystery without being the least bit pretentious. It's filled with evocative, beautifully readable prose that has plenty of flow, and no unnecessary words. It's also a lot of fun, sparkling with sharp wit and earthy humor, lightly seasoned with a sprinkle of the sort of casual literary capping I adore in British Golden Age mysteries. The plot is given depth through a variety of subplots, such as the new twist in Stefan's life - and therefore in Nick's - that promises to make things interesting going forward. While the ending provides Nick with quite a twist of his own.

However, what really makes the story, and the whole series, is the engaging protagonist. Nick is very human - warm, caring and vulnerable, neither a cold superman nor a saintly martyr. He makes real mistakes, has a wonderful but not perfect relationship, does things he regrets, makes enemies without being a bad person, and lives with a personal integrity that he's too tolerant to turn into a capital M Morality or feel the need to impose on others. He's also very funny and very good company.

This is a series entry, but perfectly enjoyable as a standalone. And don't let the gay protagonist scare you off if you usually avoid such books, based on assumptions about what that means. Raphael writes mysteries with a protagonist who happens to be gay, as other mystery heroes happen to be hetero, not sexually explicit or stereotypically "gay mysteries". So do yourself a favor and grab some Hot Rocks. Trust me, you won't get burned. Recommended.

The Book

Perseverance Press
April 2007
Trade Paperback
ISBN-10: 1880284839
ISBN-13: 978-1880284834
Traditional mystery
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The Reviewer

Kim Malo
Reviewed 2007
© 2006