For those who enjoyed the country house romp of 'The Unicorn And The Wasp' and perhaps fancied a much gayer version of those riotous detective fiction conventions then please grab yourself a copy of James Lear's witty, and rather filthy, take on the class divide in an isolated country pile. The punning title says it all as it is not only a nod to the kind of sexual activity you'll find some of the characters indulging in but also the labyrinth of secret doors and tunnels that run through the Eagle's Norfolk residence and their part to play in Bostonian Mitch Mitchell's detecting of the crime.
It gets off to a saucy start with a game of sardines in Sir James Eagle's Drekeham Manor and whilst Mitch gets down and dirty with his best friend Harry 'Boy' Morgan as they hide in a cupboard there is murder, blackmail and conspiracy afoot. It clearly signals the claustrophobic, feverish nature of the sexual encounters to come whilst also subverting the detective fiction tropes. The sex, whilst graphic, is integrated well into the overall plot and it occurs whilst Mitch is trying his best to solve the mystery of Reg Walworth's death. Mitch has long been coveting Boy Morgan and it's as much a book about his developing crime fighting, and sexual, partnership with the younger man as it is about the seedy underbelly of English upper class foibles. It's also a first person narrative so you often get some very hilarious thoughts of the main character in response to some of the things other characters are saying and doing to him and to each other.
As Mitch investigates, his encounters take in Sir James’s gay brother, a local reporter, a police constable, the servants and Sir James’s secretary. The seduction of PC Shipton in the local constabulary's toilets is probably one of the most effective pieces of erotic gay fiction I've read. It combines uniform fetish, a hint of watersports, as well as, in Lear's succinct prose, the two characters recognising 'we had crossed the Rubicon between 'fooling around' and 'having sex''. There's an equally lascivious bit of voyeurism described later in the book where Mitch and Morgan observe the gardener and the stable boy 'in flagrante delicto'. His description of the gardener is really rather lovely. Lear uses words like 'nacreous' and 'glabrous' so whilst you thrill to the hotness of the sexual congress in his tale you can at least confirm you're getting an English education. Mitch also observes the servants own same-sex indulgencies and he comes into contact with a very brutish policeman with a penchant for some dubious S&M fantasies. All in all, it peels back a layer of 1920s English reserve and describes an alternate, gay-themed, reality.
What is great about the book is that the male to male sexual relationships are played out without guilt and they are depicted as natural events of male day to day existence and often with great wit and imagination. It's a fantasy of course and character development is not at the top of the agenda here even though Mitch and Morgan are very likeable detectives. It does transplant much of our 21st Century mores into a 1925 setting so there is a great deal of licence taken and with Lear's tongue firmly in cheek (whose cheek?). Despite the graphic sex, you do care about the plot and solving the mystery which makes the reading of this that much more enjoyable. The epilogue suggests that the dream team of Mitch and Morgan does not continue beyond this book which I found a bit of an anti-climax. I'm glad a sequel is on the way but will it include the lovely 'Boy' Morgan?
The Back Passage - James Lear (Cleis Press, May 2006, ISBN-13: 9781573442435)
There's a nice piece (pardon the pun) about James Lear/Rupert Smith here: The Independent
Cathode Ray Tube James Lear gay detective fiction
- Freelance writer and film and television researcher (for hire).
He has contributed to a number of books and websites about British archive television and cinema as well as recent television series including work for Moviemail, Frame Rated and Arrow Video. Publications include I.B Tauris's 'Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour - A Critical
Celebration of the Matt Smith and Steven Moffat Era' (2013) and 'Doctor
Who - The Pandorica Opens' (2010).
- Adventures in Prime Time
- Behind the Sofa
- Blogtor Who
- British Television Drama
- Cardigans & Tweed
- Dez Skinn
- Dirty Modern Scoundrel
- Doctor Who Appreciation Society
- Doctor Who Newspage
- Feeling Listless
- Frame Rated
- Gareth Bundy's Blog
- Green Carnation Prize
- Int. Jason Arnopp's Mind - Day/Night
- Island of Dreams
- Jonathan Melville
- Ka-os Theory
- Lady Don't Fall Backwards
- Life of Wylie
- Life on Magrs
- Narrative Drive
- Paul Mount's World of Stuff
- Pseudo Random Noise
- Radio Free Skaro
- TV Lover
- Tachyon TV
- Tardis Newsroom
- Television Heaven
- The Custard TV
- The Digital Bits
- The Fan Can
- The Medium is Not Enough
- The Railway Arms
- The Thumbcast
- Thierry Attard's Double Feature
- from the north...
Comments4 Responses to “THE BACK PASSAGE - James Lear”
The Book(s) What I Wrote
"Whether you’re a fan of the show under Moffat or not, it offers an intriguing, insightful look at all aspects of the series" 7/10 - Starburst, January 2014
"A worthy addition to serious texts on Doctor Who" - Doctor Who Magazine 431, February 2011
"an impressive work, imbued with so much analytical love and passion, and is an absolute must-read for any fan" N. Blake - Amazon 4/5 stars
"...mixes the intellectual and the emotional very well...it's proper media criticism" 9/10 - The Medium Is Not Enough
"... an up-to-date guide that isn’t afraid to shy away from the more controversial aspects of the series" 8/10 - Total SciFi Online
"...well-informed new angles on familiar episodes... this is a great read from start to finish" - Bertie Fox - Amazon 4/5 stars
"Frank Collins has produced a book that is fiercely idiosyncratic, displays a wide-ranging intellect the size of a planet, but which is also endearingly open and inclusive in its desire to share its expansive knowledge..." 4/5 - Horrorview.com
"The book is great! It makes you think, it makes you work. It encourages you to go back and watch the series with a whole new perspective..." - G.R. Bundy's Blog: Telly Stuff And Things