Pederson is back, and he strikes out on a new path with Mason T. Adler, a 1946 PI, and his friend, the interior decorator Walter Waverly Wingate (and you’ve gotta love the names. So very noir! They went to the same boarding school and everything, too. It’s just perfect).
Wingate is throwing Adler a birthday party (well, kind of), but the guest of honor finds himself alone, in a room, with the young waiter Wingate has paid to sleep with him stabbed in the chest. The door and windows are locked, and only he and Adler are in the room.
Now, not only will Adler never get any use out of his birthday gift, he also needs to figure out who did it, and how.
And this time, it’s not only his reputation as a genius sleuth who constantly gets the answer ahead of the police that’s on the line.
Both Adler and Wingate start off pretty easy to like. It’s a smoothly written beginning. The descriptions of the characters flow nicely, and Pederson uses it to make their relationship clear with some mostly good natured ribbing.
The first scene description comes quickly afterwards, showing Pederson’s great eye for detail. Adler picks scents out of the air to add to the scene as the two go for a meal, and Pederson is a step ahead of them all the way, showing what’s there, and letting their actions and responses invite us to know them better.
What follows is a conversation that warmed my heart, honestly. Two gay men, talking about other gay men. We see Wingate’s easy attitude to offering help to those in his community that need it. It’s something the LGBTQ community has always done (and something I believe will continue until the day it’s no longer needed). I love seeing this conversation because it’s so comfortable, so natural. Neither the characters, nor writer, have anything to prove. There’s no awkwardness on the subject, or any fear of the opinions of homophobes, they just banter happily with each other and I love to see it!
Anyway, we get some more chat and another friend arrives, offering our first look at some building tension – and the gold standard in “tolerant” homophobia of the time.
The “tolerant” friend is, of course, only tolerant as long as he never has to see, hear, or acknowledge in any way that they are “musical”. And Adler is almost pathetically grateful about his self-proclaimed tolerance. Having experienced it personally more than once, that hits hard.
Meanwhile Adler and Wingate have their own differences of opinion on keeping a low profile (a stroll down to the canal?) and what constitutes living a lie (occasionally going places with a female friend?)
It’s full of the pain and life of needing to be yourself, but knowing that the wrong people finding out could lead to arrest, ostracism, death.
I really liked that Adler had a female friend who knows of his sexuality, and had a genuine connection with him. They both had someone to escort them to places (a requirement for avoiding the people who would otherwise be trying to marry them off), and to spend time with. And they really did loved each other as friends. Lydia almost broke that a couple of times, but fortunately in the end she didn’t.
Onwards! After half a book or so of setup, eventually we get to the party, and then to the murder.
But don’t mistake the shortness of my above paragraph. That’s just me not wanting to deprive you of the very enjoyable time spent introducing us to the main players and showing us how they move through the world around them. That last is something important for us to understand in the case of our gay characters in particular. We get to know them, so we feel for them in the dangerous world they live in, and then when everything goes horribly wrong, we fear for them even more. It’s very well built up and executed.
In Adler, we get a depiction of a gay man growing old – which is something we don’t see enough. Especially in the gay community, where focus tends to fall on the young and ripped. An older gay gentleman, worrying about the stranger in the mirror, is an excellent touch. It adds layers to Adler that I have to really appreciate.
Also, keep an eye out for the moments that made me snigger like a 12yr old. Like the cishet guy calling Adler a one-of-a-kind dick. I had to stop reading for a minute after that one!
There’s one main issue, really, and that’s the speech. First, it feels like it’s been learned by rote and rattled off at high speed. There’s a lot of conversation which goes directly from speaker to speaker with little in the way of motion from the speakers. It strikes oddly, given Pederson’s expertise with environmental details. Second, something about the speech itself feels unnatural, as if it’s been written by someone unfamiliar with informal English. It doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyment, but it’s jarring at times, and it took me out of the flow a lot.
The plot plodded along, sometimes a little slowly, but generally enjoyably; even guessing some of what was about to come did little to lessen my enjoyment of seeing how the characters acted and reacted when it did, which was nice.
As to the solution to the mystery (it’s a crime story so an important detail): it was reasonably sneakily done. We probably didn’t need to have it explained twice within 5 pages of each other, but that’s a minor point really.
It was a fun read, and I’d recommend it for sure. It’s my first time reading a book from Pederson, and I’d happily pick up another.
Murder On Monte Vista was released on 15th March 2022.