Alas, it's the end of an era for us Edward 'Mitch' Mitchell fans. Over the course of three books author James Lear has thoroughly entertained many of us with the erotic investigations of amateur sleuth Mitchell and his amour Harry 'Boy' Morgan. With The Back Passage, Lear gave us the classic country house Agatha Christie thriller with a kinky twist, with The Secret Tunnel it was a dark erotic version of 'Murder On The Orient Express' and now finally it seems A Sticky End is to be his parting shot with a story that looks at the seamier side of high finance and suburban pre-war living and loving.
Here, 'Boy' Morgan is the catalyst for the story and Lear weaves a gripping pulp narrative about the death of his 'friend' Frank Bartlett, a man Morgan has come to love and financially benefit from. However, Bartlett has been found dead in Morgan's bathroom and the big question is whether it was suicide or murder. He calls upon his lover Mitch to try and, pun intended, get to the bottom of it all. We follow Mitch, via his noirish first person narrative and interior monologue, through a web of blackmail and sexual intrigue, in his encounters with the moneyed class and working class, with male prostitutes, guardsmen and policemen.
One of the most interesting aspects of this new novel is how Lear places Morgan outside of the narrative beyond the first few chapters. He and Mitch don't investigate together because for most of the book, Morgan is absent, being questioned by the police. The teamwork of the previous two novels has seemingly dissolved after Morgan's marriage to Belinda and once Morgan has unburdened himself with the details of his assignation with Bartlett and a pick up, Durran, Mitch is left on his own to sort out the mess in his inimitable style. Fuck first and ask questions later! Interestingly, it's good to see Lear imbue the character with some self-doubts and through much of the book Mitch really struggles with his faith in Morgan, often ready to believe that his old friend was capable of murdering Bartlett. With the team split up, Morgan must not only rely on his own convictions and resources but also a rogues gallery of temporary side-kicks to help him reveal the murderer.
Naturally, the book is laced with erotic encounters of many hues as Mitch begins to unearth the truth. He, and Lear, have a predilection for men in uniform and before you know it Mitch is chatting up Stan Knight, the policeman on guard outside Morgan's house, and if you've read The Back Passage then 'the powerful sense of deja-vu...a young policeman, a pissoir' will have you smiling at a certain erotic highlight in the earlier book and then getting hot and bothered in anticipation of Mitch's seduction of Stan. It's a bit of a cock fight to be sure. Mitch also tracks down Durran to a gay pub off Tooting Broadway and, naturally, finds time for an orgy. If it's titillation in period surroundings you're after then his pub crawl with Stan is one of the highlights of the book.
He also starts to uncover details about Bartlett's secret life and the blackmail he's enmeshed in, tracing his sexual history to the steam rooms and baths of the Parthenon and the Wellington barracks near Buckingham Palace. His interrogation methods used on McDermott, a guardsman and former lover of Bartlett's, are both hilarious and stimulating and provide a memorable chapter of low comedy and highly charged eroticism. All the while he doesn't actually seem to be getting any closer to the truth and it's only until he's inflagrante delicto with a labourer, Bert, whom he met on the pub crawl earlier, that there is some sort of eureka moment in solving the mystery. The book ends in time-honoured fashion with a gathering of the suspects in Morgan's home, a revelation from a surprise witness and the bigoted blackmailers being brought to book.
It's a fitting swansong, certainly tinged with a bittersweet and melancholic farewell at the end, for the redoubtable Mitch. Lear's economic prose again evokes the era very well and the central mystery is enough to keep you engrossed between the sex scenes where Lear's descriptive powers conjure up the sweat and heat of every sordid and seedy moment. These encounters, coupled with the plot and its cast of colourful characters and Mitch's insatiable desires, make the book a witty, sexy treat.
A Sticky End - James Lear (Cleis Press - Published 4th May 2010 - ISBN 10: 1573443956 / 1-57344-395-6 ISBN 13: 9781573443951 Format: Paperback)