A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
The House of the Dead: a mortuary whose directors are drop dead gorgeous and terminally horny—and one of them up to mischief. Stanley and Tom try to separate the naturally dead from the murdered dead and find themselves awash with coffins—until they come to the one Stanley’s name on it.
Deadly Slumber indeed
Deadly Slumber is book four of Victor Banis’ wonderful Deadly mystery series starring former San Francisco Police Inspectors — and current private investigators — Stanley Korski and Tom Danzel. As I’ve come to expect with Victor’s stories, DS is well-written and -plotted, with a mystery element that holds your interest, realistic three-dimensional characters and laugh out loud moments. Readers should note that while this could be read as a standalone, I wouldn’t advise it here as many references are made to the previous book, Deadly Dreams, and actually much of the emotions and thoughts both protags have during this book are directly related to DD.
Set a few months after the end of DD, all is not well in Stanley and Tom paradise; although Tom has finally said the L word to Stanley, they are both understandably feeling the aftereffects of the happenings of the previous story (more on that later) and their relationship is suffering the consequences. Stanley, in an effort to keep their detective agency going with Tom still recuperating, takes on a job with Bartholomew’s Mortuary, or the House of the Dead, to investigate some recent shenanigans — relatively harmless, yet disturbing nonetheless, pranks and such — at the fairly famous facility. Known as one of the only funeral parlors that would deal with AIDS casualties during the plague years, it has built its clientele on the gay community and the beautiful male funeral directors have a hush-hush reputation of offering every comfort possible to those in grief. Nudge nudge, wink wink. No wonder it got its other nickname of the Sweet Cream Palace! But the investigation, which Tom joins, gets darker as the recent apparent suicide of one of the family-run facility’s owners may not be a suicide, and the one of the other owners, the deceased’s sister, has disappeared. Are all of these events related? In order to investigate fully, Stanley stays at Bartholomew’s hoping to catch one of the many staff in the act of…something. But there is so much temptation with the stunning directors and interns making blatant offers, and Stanley and Tom’s relationship is a bit shaky, and, well, what’s a poor gay man to do? Plus, it wouldn’t be a Deadly book if Stanley the “trouble magnet” didn’t get himself in some sort of pickle.
If you have read DD then you know that there was no way Tom and Stanley could walk away from that ending unscathed, so in DS Victor has penned two sympathetic and broken heroes. Tom’s burns are healing as they should — the worst of them being on the left side of his face — and he is trying to find ways to deal with physical changes and the emotional effects that are now part of his life. Withdrawn and morose with feelings of self-consciousness, guilt, blame, anger and resentment — towards whom or what he can’t pin down — he has spent the last several weeks since his release from the hospital hiding out in their apartment. Luckily, some key words from Stanley’s friend Chris kick Tom in the arse and get him moving again in the right direction, both back to work and to Stanley. I have to say that Tom has really grown on me over the course of the series. I thought he was totally “Tom” by rebounding the way he did here. It’s like with Stanley: Tom decided he was going to be with him, so he did and that was that. Tom and his hot nuts (*g*) are less GFY here, more aware of other men looking at him and him noticing other men, too. Also, for someone who had resisted pretty strongly in earlier books, he is very self-aware and accepting of his relationship with and love for Stanley.
Stanley had done something to him, something he still couldn’t fully understand. He’d resisted for the longest time, tried to pretend it was nothing more than hot nuts. He’d given up that pretense, though. He couldn’t fool himself. He loved Stanley. He didn’t know how or why that had happened, to him of all people, but it had. It was just a fact of life; maybe the central fact of his life.
Stanley also feels…different. Because he and Tom haven’t really talked about their issues yet, he unknowingly shares some of the same emotions as his lover, but on top of that he has killed a man and that has changed him, scarred him, though the scars don’t show like the ones Tom has. He is confused and troubled to the point of distraction at times. He mourns his loss of innocence and feels the pain of having taken a life. It seemed as if he could not look in the mirror without seeing the stain of his sin written across his face, as visible to his eyes as Tom’s scars were to him. Both of them, marked now. Stanley also has an admittedly shameful dilemma in this book which provides for some interesting and often humorous dialog — both internally and out loud with various characters — on the differences between accidental versus premeditated sex:
A vision of young Armando, bent over a casket, his trousers about his ankles, magnificently sculpted cheeks spread wide, flashed across Stanley’s mind. A lovely vision, really.
Would that be an accident? What if, say, you saw him like that, and your knees grew weak at the sight—which was, after all, entirely believable—and, say, you more or less fell against him, and before you knew it, you’d slipped inside without a conscious intention of doing so, simply the circumstances of how you had fallen…and you couldn’t just leap back in horror without giving offense, could you, not when he was being so very courteous himself? Miss Manners would almost certainly forbid it.
And suppose, moreover, that you now found yourself more or less imprisoned within some tight space, and it took several tugs and pulls and pushes to extricate yourself gracefully. He’d once or twice found himself ensheathed in places quite that tight and it had taken him the longest time, and considerable effort, before he could comfortably and safely free himself without offense to anyone.
Because of their issues, Stanley and Tom each draw within themselves, becoming somewhat distant, and their relationship suffers a bit. Though there is guilt and blame on both parts, Stanley’s guilt is multiple fold; guilt over how Tom looks knowing that he is essentially the cause, his reaction to the scars, the fact that he is a coward and can’t talk to Tom, his temptations. Because there is a lot of focus on the emotions of our two heroes, the story is very reflective and somewhat darker because of the muddled and deep thoughts going on in especially Stanley’s mind. But along with this comes some of the most poignant, direct and truthful dialog and communication between our heroes yet in the series, especially toward the end when they finally talk about what happened.
There is a theme of beauty and appearances that pervades the book. Tom’s face is one. Stanley has this immense guilt over Tom’s damage yet paradoxically, he changes his opinion to that which amazingly is shared among others as the story progresses: Tom’s scars are hot. Smokin’, in fact. They make him more savage and wild looking and it’s a turn-on. Tom had always had a sex appeal that was evident to the eyes, but now it registered on some more visceral level, seemed to go straight to the crotch like an electric spark. And Tom’s reaction to this change is hilarious at times.
Carrying the theme, the funeral directors’ beauty is discussed by almost every character. Nancy, the mortuary accountant, is fat and bordering on ugly, yet sexually attractive (even Tom would do her, but then Stanley calls him “some kind of goat, fuck anything that holds still”). A conversation with her leads to an interesting internal train of thought in Stanley’s head about female beauty, the body type of ancient gods of fertility, and judging a book by its cover. Even homely Percy Junior, the suicide/murder victim who dropped his drawers for just about everyone he met in need of comfort isn’t immune from the theme.
As with the other books, there is a large, colorful and well-developed secondary cast with some regulars — such as Chris, Stanley’s best friend, and SFPD Inspector Bryce, who has the hots for Tom — and others in the form of the mortuary staff both dead and alive. The mystery element was fairly complex, and though I had suspected some of the reveal, it did not ruin it for me at all.
The single complaint I have is that there is head hopping with the POV shifts, and not just between Stanley and Tom; we visit the minds of several other characters, which made it slightly confusing. I recall this happening somewhat in previous installments, but I don’t remember it being so obvious.
Oh, and I admit that my gag reflex could have done without these two sentences:
Sometimes Life just handed you a dog-turd taco, and gave you no choice but to eat it.
“And look at that ass. I’d eat a yard of his shit with fishhooks in it just to get to that.”
Victor delivers yet another winner with Deadly Slumber. Fans of the series, of the author, or mystery lovers should not miss it (just remember to read Deadly Dreams first).