Book Reviews

Snowball In Hell by Josh Lanyon at Carina Press

Genre Gay / Historical / 20th Century / Officers of the Law / Romance / Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Reviewed by ParisDude on 03-April-2020

Book Blurb

Los Angeles, 1943

Reporter Nathan Doyle had his reasons to want Phil Arlen dead, but when he sees the man’s body pulled from the La Brea tar pit, he knows he’ll be the prime suspect. He also knows that his life won’t stand up to intense police scrutiny, so he sets out to crack the case himself.

Lieutenant Matthew Spain’s official inquiries soon lead him to believe that Nathan knows more than he’s saying. But that’s not the only reason Matt takes notice of the handsome journalist. Matt’s been drawn to men before, but he must hide his true feelings—or risk his entire career.

As Nathan digs deeper, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay one step ahead of Matt Spain—and to deny his intense attraction to him. Nathan’s secrets may not include murder, but has his hunt put him right in the path of the real killer?

First edition published by Aspen Mountain Press, 2007.

Second edition published by Carina Press, April 2011.

Book Review

In this historical murder mystery, Josh Lanyon, true to her favorite trope of “opposites attract”, has created two of those manly main characters she is so fond of and whom I have grown to love, too. The story is set in Los Angeles in 1943. Nathan Doyle, reporter with the Tribune-Herald, has been wounded in North Africa and is back in his hometown. When the police pulls a man’s bullet-ridden body out of the La Brea tar pit, Doyle is among the crowd of on-the-scene reporters. The officer in charge, no-nonsense Lieutenant Matthew Spain, cannot help but notice his fragile, taciturn, self-possessed handsomeness and asks him if he can identify the victim. Surprisingly, he does: it’s Phil Arden, spoiled ne’er-do-well son of Benedict Arlen, a very rich local oil tycoon. In fact Nathan has been to school with Phil’s older brother Bob.


What Matthew doesn’t know but quickly finds out is that Nathan is more or less the last person to have seen Phil alive—they left the Las Palmas Club together some days earlier, right before Phil’s disappearance. Everybody believes the murder was a kidnapping that somehow turned wrong—after the ransom had been delievered, that is, but Matthew’s curiosity is piqued, especially when he discovers Phil’s unsavory pastime was large-scale blackmailing. The young man’s father had cut his allowance in the hope that he would start adopting a more wholesome lifestyle, but far from complying with his old man’s wishes and despite his being recently married, Phil had continued his gambling and hanging out in clubs. Matthew follows Nathan one night and uncovers the young man’s inavowable secret: he loves men. That discovery leads to Matthew questioning his own craving for male-on-male love, exacerbated since his late wife passed away from cancer.


Nathan notices Matthew’s interest but misinterprets it at first, believing he has become the police’s main suspect. That is why he follows his own, instinctive leads, which make him meet up with and talk to Phil’s wife Claire, Claire’s brother, Phil’s subdued, almost submissive brother Bob, and Bob’s wife, as well as the owners of the Las Palmas Club, Sid Szabo and Nora Noonan. Then, there is that blonde, flirty singer, Pearl Jarvis, with whom Phil is said to have had an affair and who disappears all of a sudden. Nathan ends up in the mountains, shadowing Jarvis and two rather obnoxious men, when someone clubs him over the head… and to his surprise, he finds himself rescued by Lieutenant Spain himself.


Funny, this. When I started reading this book, I quickly thought it seemed uncannily familiar. As Josh Lanyon is not known for rehashing old stories, I wondered why until I realized… I had already read this novel! No problem; my memory where books are concerned is so poor, anyway, that I always need to check names and places when writing my reviews even if I have just finished the book. So I dove in again and experienced this peculiar, warm feeling one has when meeting a good friend after a long time. ‘Snowball In Hell’ is a genuine Lanyon, meaning I was rewarded with a solid, nicely paced murder mystery plot interwoven with the romantic M/M subplot. Even this second read was a treat; all right, I suspected the culprit a bit earlier than normally, but still.


What makes this book stand out among the rest of Lanyon’s already awesome literary production is the historical background, which adds a layer of suspense, danger, and a dab of melancholy. Indeed it must have been inconceivably hard and sad for a gay man to live a fulfilling and fulfilled life back then, as witnessed by both Nathan Doyle with his almost self-destructive self-loathing and Matt Spain, who has spent his life well-hidden in the unquestionable closet of his marriage. How those men, so different yet somehow so similar, met, circled around each other, and finally fell into each other’s arms was a sweet, rewarding reading experience, as was the rest of the book. Josh has plenty of Agathe-Christie-like aces up her writing sleeve; this is one of them. To be enjoyed without restraint.






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
Length Novella, 166 pages/44490 words
Heat Level
Publication Date 16-March-2020
Price $4.99 ebook
Buy Link