Book Reviews

A Friend in the Dark (An Auden & O'Callaghan Mystery 1) by Gregory Ashe and C.S. Poe at Emporium Press

Genre Gay / Contemporary / Military/Former Military / Romance / Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Reviewed by Bob-O-Link on 09-September-2020

Book Blurb

Rufus O’Callaghan has eked out a living on the streets of New York City by helping the police put away criminals as a confidential informant. But when Rufus shows up for an arranged meeting and finds his handler dead, his already-uncertain life is thrown into a tailspin. Now someone is trying to kill Rufus too, and he’s determined to find out why.

After leaving the Army under less than desirable circumstances, Sam Auden has drifted from town to town, hitching rides and catching Greyhounds, until he learns that a former Army buddy, now a police detective in New York City, has died by suicide. Sam knows that’s not right, and he immediately sets out to get answers.

As Rufus and Sam work together to learn the truth of their friend’s death, they find themselves entangled in a web of lies, cover-ups, and accelerating danger. And when they witness a suspect killed in cold blood, they realize they’re running out of time.


Book Review

Sometimes, should you be an “honest” reader, you may prefer a novel totally focused on a detailed and lurid presentation of sex. Do you remember being introduced to that kind of book in your youth, perhaps alone at night and under the covers, with a flashlight and one hand free (to turn the pages, or perhaps for some other occasional distraction)? Now, all grown up, you may still prefer “stimulating” entertainment, but ain’t it so much nicer and respectable when such books seem all dressed up – intellectually? – educationally? – or, as here, as a noir style mystery? (By the way, the last category don’t mean you still won’t want to keep one hand available!)


Proceeding (at less than apace), what does noir even mean? Merriam-Webster says noir, among other things, is a genre of crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and a bleak sleazy setting. Bingo! – and welcome to the most excellent ‘A Friend in the Dark’.


Cynical characters? We meet Rufus in a dark cityscape, “with nothing but a burner phone, a lifted pack of spearmint bubblegum, and a certain sense of dread in his gut.” An odd character even for this genre, “(H)e had two speeds – snark and asshole.” And, going for the gold, the authors even provide Rufus with an eidetic memory.


Sam, the other hero, is introduced as a disconnected everyman (much as Lee Child’s continuing hero, Jack Reacher) and, as depicted, Sam may be somewhere on the autistic scale, or perhaps he is merely suffering from PTSD. I’ll resist the authors’ perfect descriptions of their claustrophobic, bleak urban environment (New York City in July), but it certainly would do Dashell Hammett or Mickey Spillane proud. They also capture the tempo of this style – almost much like an inner voice-over in a film. “Counting the blocks, the street numbers ticking down, Sam focused on things he could control: The movements of his body (well, more or less…)” or, “The doors were caked in enough dirt and grease to leave a tag on. Water drip, drip, dripped from somewhere overhead, …” 

Enough of this delicious taste of settings and style. We are off to a mystery, which starts with characters slow for us to comprehend, surprising and violent occurrences, weird secondary personae to season the stew. Even stray noises and unrelated overheard conversations engage you deep into this atmosphere.


Now for the other good stuff: the plot and the sex. The latter is going to be a disappointment for readers expecting to employ that available hand. Active sex is present, and is inherently essential to the main characters’ interest in each other, but is always low key - the authors having resisted the temptation for lurid detail. (Of course, it was nice of them to note in passing that Rufus’s dead handler occasionally liked to seek passing satisfaction for his bisexual desires. “Jake wanted take-out dick. No, delivery dick.”)


The plot starts with a surprising murder – a usual noir coup de foudre, and moves rapidly forward with proper twists and turns.


Enough of this review. Rufus and Sam will engage you, so much that you will happily look forward to the next book in the series. The noir tone is just about perfect. The dialog is both sharp and totally respectful of the readers’ intellect (with references from Greek myths to the classic film, ‘It Happened One Night’) all of which is beneficent!


As I said: enough! In the time it took to read this review, readers could have finished the first few pages of a wonderful book.             





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


Additional Information

Format ebook
Length Novel, 251 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 08-September-2020
Price $4.99 ebook
Buy Link