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

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4 Responses to “THE BACK PASSAGE - James Lear”
  1. Unknown says:

    Thank you for your very kind review of THE BACK PASSAGE, I'm delighted you enjoyed it. There is indeed a sequel on the way, featuring Mitch and Boy Morgan, due out in the autumn and entitled THE SECRET TUNNEL (do you detect a pattern here?). It's largely set on a train. In the meantime, you might enjoy THE PALACE OF VARIETIES, a very filthy "backstage" story set in 30s London.

    All best
    James Lear

  2. James,

    How delightful that you dropped in. I have indeed just taken delivery of 'Palace Of Varieties' and will be reviewing that as soon as I can along with 'Hot Valley' which I thoroughly enjoyed too. Keep up the fantastic work. I'll pop a link to you in the 'Place To Visit' bit too!


  3. Unknown says:

    Thanks! You can keep up with Lear news at or at my alter ego's website, where you will find contact details.

    Better get on with writing the next one now.

  4. Yes, Rupert..get yer skates on. Apologies, but I didn't get the James Lear/Rupert Smith connection until I saw the piece in The Independent. 'I Must Confess' is also one of my favourite books! It's a small world. Thanks again for the comments.


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