Book Reviews

Listening to the Dead by George Seaton at Lethe Press

Genre Gay / Contemporary / Romance / Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Reviewed by ParisDude on 27-March-2020

Book Blurb

Jack Dolan has spent almost thirty years solving homicides in Denver, his uncanny ability to speak to the dead learned from his aged mentor whom other cops refer to as Old Grim because of his incredible solve rate. For almost as long, Jack has repressed his sexuality, fearing discovery and likely ostracism from his fellow cops...except for one with whom he long ago severed a loving relationship. When Jack retires to the mountains of Colorado, he discovers the bodies of two young men, naked and bludgeoned to death in a recess off a rutted horse path which he eventually refers to simply as The Place. All of his training, everything he learned from Old Grim is put to the test to find out what happened to the young men... including a call to the man he once loved.


Book Review

Golly, what a strange book! It combines breathtaking beauty and chilling bleakness with a twist toward the odd that came with the main theme as well as the narrating technique. Jack Dolan has been working for the Denver police force all his life solving homicides. He has been living all by himself if one doesn’t count his distastrous marriage, which rapidly led to a divorce, and a half-assed gay love affair with a younger fellow policeman, which he ended because back in the day, theirs had to remain a secret relationship. Now he has retired, bought a fine little lodge in the mountains of Colorado, a horse called Shy, and leads a life of calm and contentedness. But one day, he stumbles upon the bodies of two young men, and he can’t help himself: he needs to touch them. Because there is one thing he has learned from his old mentor in the force, and that is that the dead are able to transmit their final thoughts to those willing to listen. Jack is one of those listeners. And what one of the dead tells him shakes him to the core: “We thought they were friends…”


The local police force is unable to cope with such a murder and asks for the Colorado branch of the FBI to assist them. That’s how once more, Jack meets the lover he has never forgotten, the other part in his half-assed gay love affair: Mike Day. Mike seems still as dapper and handsome as ever, just a bit older, a bit more tired, a bit more disillusioned. Working with him again shows Jack what could have been (and what maybe he could have now). What the first clues reveal is that the two young men, most probably a gay couple, have been lured into this bit of the Colorado wilderness for a weekend of camping and romping around, but that they have been victims of a dark and mean circle of unscrupulous SM-lovers who pushed their “games” too far, hunting them through the forest at night, torturing them, and ultimately killing them. Everything points at the nearby Whisper River Ranch, but probable witnesses disappear, and the whole investigation seems to peter out. Months later, it’s Mike’s turn to retire, and he follows Jack’s invitation to come live with him. Life could be good if only Jack weren’t still as obsessed by the two young men’s gruesome fate…

 

All right, this may be a spoiler (not much of a spoiler, however, as most crime novels tend to come with a satisfying solution at the end): I wanted a happy ending for this untypical couple, I wanted the murder affair to be solved, and I got both. Not at all like I had foreseen, but that was just one more odd thing in this book. Note that I like odd. I love to be surprised by a book, and there were many surprises in this little gem. Firstly, the main characters. It is rare to read about two guys hooking up (again) in their advanced years, and here I was regaled with these two men in their sixties who upon meeting again reminisced without regret and bitterness (very good point, Mr. Seaton!) about the good old times they had had together… and then simply decided to give it a new try. Both men turned out three-dimensional, breathing, almost real, but different insofar as, thank God, they were not the streamlined run-of-the-mill ones I encounter much too often in gay fiction. They had bite, they had edges, rough and raw bits, which to me made them really stand out from an ocean of bland fiction characters. Their interactions were filled with a strong sense of affection and caring, which made me like them at once, despite the huge bleakness emanating from both of them.

 

Because this was the second surprising thing: the book’s inherent and stark bleakness. I won’t hide that even though I am a genuinely positive guy, I have a strong penchant for the dark and dreary, the gaunt, the hopeless, for example in classic music (in terms of fellow Austrians, I’m much more into Mahler than Mozart) as well as in electronic music (if a progressive trance tune is dark, I’m happy). And the bleakness of this book, even though it needed some getting used to, spoke to me like a whisper echoing through a dark mountain forest of pines and spruces. Jack more than Mike is a really dark character—his life experiences, his expectations, his outlook, his philosophy, one might say. Nothing light and sunny there. But he has depth, he has wisdom, and that I always like. Moreover, he still has the ability to see the beautiful things, to enjoy and cherish them (he loves his horse, he loves Mike, he loves the mountains).

 

The third thing that worked for me: the setting. I don’t know a thing about Colorado apart from what I could glean as a teenager from watching much too many “Dynasty” episodes, but reading this book and Mr. Seaton’s amazing descriptions made me want to visit the place, hike up a mountain trail, breathe the fresh air, wade through a river, watch the wildlife, etc. Nothing extraordinary in the author’s prose, though, but his own love (I guess) of these mountains shines through every single line.

 

What I found a tad disconcerting were the changes of point of view. All right, they allowed me to know more than the two main characters, and in the beginning, that strategy worked fine for me. But at one point, Mr. Seaton switched Mike’s parts from the third-person perspective (one of many) to a first-person narrative, and I really couldn’t see why. It didn’t improve my understanding of Mike or Jack or the plot one bit. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I hated that change, but, yes, I was a bit thrown off the track for a while. This niggle notwithstanding, I found this book outstanding, well written, well paced, and therefore highly recommendable.

 

 

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the author. This book has been provided by the author for the purpose of a review.

 

Additional Information

Format ebook and audio
Length Novel, 316 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 18-February-2017
Price $5.00 ebook, $17.95 audiobook
Buy Link https://www.amazon.com/Listening-Dead-George-Seaton-ebook/dp/B06WVGDH7C