A review of Angel Food and Devil Dogs, by Liz Bradbury

READ June 2013

Summary from the internet: “When private detective Maggie Gale is called to a college to discuss the suspicious suicide of a gay professor, she shakes hands with the attractive Dr. Kathryn Anthony, who smiles at her with a faint but unmistakable touch of lust. Thrills, humor, & hot lesbian romance combine in this classic who-done-it style mystery that’s also about romance.”

My review: Wanna know one o’ my biggest pet peeves? No, you don’t give a crap, but I’m gonna tell you anyway: A seemingly capable author spins an enjoyable, interesting yarn, provides us with a potentially likable protagonist, surrounds her with other engaging characters, creates in us a pretty good vibe about things, then proceeds to shoot herself in the foot in so many different ways that you decide, hmm, maybe I don’t really want to get to know these folks better, after all.

Several reviewers referred to the book as “well-written,” but, personally, I found the writing pretty clunky and choppy, particularly in the early going, and the dialogue, especially in scenes more related to the mystery, awkward and unconvincing. Interestingly, this seems to improve markedly once Maggie and Kathryn get together. The scenes featuring the two of them, beginning with an early-morning walk in the snow, are by far the best written of the entire book and the dialogue between them is very believable,. Bradbury seems to be more comfortable with her characters than with the rest of the narrative.

Minor quibbles: Maggie’s interrogation technique, for an experienced cop, is superficial, at best; I kept expecting follow-up questions which never came. Also, copy-editing is much needed; I know this is only a 99-cent Kindle edition, but if you‘re putting it before the public, it’s worth doing it right, irrespective of price. There’s also the fact that, despite a few red-herrings, I was positive I knew the identity of the killer the moment his character was introduced; the author overdoes her attempts to make him affable and out-going.

On the other side of the slate, the characters are, as I say, likable for the most part, the mystery is well-plotted, if transparent, and I like the fact that Maggie’s character is multi-faceted: An PI who was an art major is pretty cool. Also, Bradbury doesn’t succumb to the common fatal pitfall of telling, not showing, and I found that particularly impressive. In addition, while I have absolutely nothing against explicit sex scenes, I appreciated the way Bradbury was able to make the sex highly erotic without having to use those stiff clinical terms, or more offensive porn-speak, not to mention ghastly euphemisms like “dewy petals.” (Barf. )She leaves a lot of the specifics to our imagination, which is far more erotic.

So, what are my major issues? you ask. First,  I was uncomfortable with the opening scene. To me, the characters come close to making fun of Mickey, the young man with mental issues, not in so many words, but just the overall feel to the scene. In a similarly vein, there’s the Bart Edgar character. We’re told he’s a klutz, inept at his job. No, not told, we’re bludgeoned with it. After the first ninety-nine times, we get it; time one hundred is overkill. Yeah, such people are annoying, especially in cases of nepotism. I get it, but it bothered me that Bart is ridiculed at every turn, without even a tiny hint of sympathy.

I was disturbed, too, by the main characters’ attitude about closeted people, especially Maggie’s dismissive attitude toward the character, Rowlina. Remaining in the closet may, indeed, be potentially damaging, but, although I admit Ms Bradbury is far more learned on LGBT issues than I, it seems to me, that it’s no one’s business but that individual’s, and certainly not a subject for mockery.

Lastly, there’s Maggie herself. After rescuing Bart, she freely touts her exploits: “I’m a hero! I’m a hero!” Yes, she was, but the character would be much more attractive if she downplayed rather than trumpeted the fact. Similarly, we’re told of an earlier affair with a beautiful professor. Yep, no way our Maggie’s gonna be with anybody who’s not drop-dead gorgeous. The reference would have worked just as well if it were simply a “professor,” not a “beautiful professor.“ Everything seems to be about pumping up Maggie in the reader’s eyes, but, to me, it has the opposite effect. The pièce de résistance, though, is the scene in Maggie’s workout room, showing off for Kathryn. That almost comic book-like scene convinced me that, as I had suspected, Maggie’s biggest fault is an overwhelming sense of self-importance. It was awfully unappealing in a generally likable character.

So, though it did enjoy the book in general, and the interactions — not just the sex — between Maggie and Kathryn, in particular, my objections were just too much for me to overcome. I doubt I’ll venture further into Bradbury’s series; there are just too many turn-offs which outweigh the good things about Maggie. I hate to say this, because I greatly admire anyone who publishes a book — having myself been working on one for almost two years — and there are good points to this one, but I really can’t justify recommending Angel Food and Devil Dogs.

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