When I was a teen, I read every book Agatha Christie wrote, as well as every Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L Sayers, and PD James in my local library. This background made me a prime audience for The Secret Tunnel, James Lear’s gay erotic pastiche of cozy mystery novels.
Lear introduces his amateur sleuth, Edward “Mitch” Mitchell in The Back Passage (Cleis Press). Like me, Mitch is a fan of mystery novels. Although he’s a medical student, he gets a bit carried away with the idea of playing detective. In The Back Passage, he’s invited to a country house for a weekend right out of an Agatha Christie story. During a game of sardines, a body falls out of a cabinet, and the game is afoot. Somehow, Mitch manages to solve that mystery, as well as having sex with almost every man in the house and nearby village.
Mitch is back in The Secret Tunnel. He leaves his lover Vince in Edinburgh to visit his Cambridge roommate and fuck buddy Boy Morgan. Before the Flying Scotsman even leaves the station, Mitch manages to procure a grateful, slutty Belgian stowaway as a sidekick. Before they can get down to some mutually satisfying fun, they meet their fellow passengers: a drug addicted movie star, her gay (of course) leading man and their shady entourage; the requisite titled dowager with harried secretary in attendance; an unhappy family on holiday; four lusty Scottish soldiers; a porter with a magnificent ass for rent only to first class passengers; and other assorted players from English murder mystery central casting.
Everybody on the train has secrets, and the only place to hide them from prying eyes seems to be the First Class lavatory. The door is always locked, even though it’s doubtful anyone is using it for its intended purpose. When a pool of blood seeps under the door though, Mitch swings into action.
Being easily distracted by his cock, most of the action Mitch partakes in is of the hairy bums and squirting loads variety. He admonishes himself for being so easily distracted by sex, but that doesn’t stop him from being sidetracked every time. Although Lear constantly reminds the readers of the very real threat of imprisonment for sodomy in England at the time, in his world, every man is at least bisexual and willingly engages in oral and anal sex given the opportunity. Mitch, being hot, young, hung, and full of come, is the opportunity they’ve been waiting for.
My only real quibble with this book is that while there’s a lot of sex, it’s not sensual enough to be erotic or salacious enough to be porn. My preference is quality over quantity, but that’s not Lear’s style. That didn’t stop me from enjoying this story. It’s almost impossible not to.
Mitch is absolutely confident in his sexual prowess, but he’s humble enough about his detective skills that he’s a charming character. When Mitch gets all the primary characters together in a classic Hercule Poirot style denouement, albeit in the middle of a masked gay orgy with the who’s who of London society, he’s not exactly sure what happened or why. That doesn’t stop him from presenting a rather convoluted tale of motives and methods.
As I read Mitch’s version of what happened on the train, I had a momentary flashback to Neil Simon’s wonderful screenplay Murder By Death where Lionel Twain harangues the assembled detectives for introducing crucial characters in the last pages and for cheating their readers by withholding vital clues. Maybe it is cheating, but solving the whodunnit isn’t going to be any reader’s top priority with this book. Besides, it’s in keeping with the spirit and style of classic cozy mysteries to wrap up the case with a big improbable bow. I don’t know enough about Dame Agatha Christie to guess if she would have been horrified or amused by rampant gay sex scenes in The Secret Tunnel, but if she had any sense of humor, she probably would have enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek delivery of James Lear’s murder mysteries. I certainly did.
© 2009 Kathleen Bradean. All rights reserved.