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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars

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on 16 August 2017
The <i>Back Passage</i> is an unusual book—a mixture of M/M erotica and Agatha Christie style detective mystery. This combination is not, to be perfectly honest, entirely successful: it is original, and fun, but the erotica element renders the mystery unbelievable. This is in fact my criticism of erotica books in general; they are so sex-obsessed as to render the rest of the story tangential and weak.

Still, I enjoyed this book. Part of it is of course guilty pleasure (that is the allure of the erotica genre). Part of it is that James Lear is a genuinely good writer; lesser writers produce cringe worthy sex scenes. And part of it is that the mystery side was given attention, and worked appreciably well, albeit not up to the standards of the masters (cough Agatha Christie cough).

The weak element is, as I say, the believability of it all. Nearly every male character is gay or bisexual, and if they’re not one of those things, they’re gay-for-pay. (The female characters are all perfectly heterosexual, of course.) This is not credible in any society—even Theban or Spartan pederasty was more of an ideal, and didn’t always involve sex—and it’s especially hard to believe for a book set in 1925.

Still: an enjoyable book, as I say. If you are a fan of erotica, you will probably like this book. The protagonist, a young Bostonian man with a flair for sleuthing as well as bonking, may even appeal to fans of the wider mystery genre (though the sex is kinky and voyeuristic even by M/M standards).

The publisher and writer also deserve credit—for bravery. This is not an easy book to write nor publish, and would have certainly been censored in 1925. We ought reflect on how much things have progressed since then.

<b>Rating: 3.5/5.</b>
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on 14 March 2007
"Graphic" is the first word that springs to mind, and indeed the second and third. Well-written, good continuity, consistently humourous, appealing characters, appalling character twists-- an enjoyable and easy read. Perhaps a must-have, certainly a must-borrow-from-library.

The main character is a randy American college student in England in 1925 relating the murder mystery that began just feet from him while he was rather adamantly "otherwise occupied." Generally the premise feels real, if startlingly unlikely, and the reader will find himself torn between anticipation at the next R-rated moment and curiosity about the identity of the murderer. Not one to leave lying around when children are present, but a smashing good read otherwise.
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on 10 March 2007
Thoroughly enjoyable. This book very clearly makes the point that gay historical fiction needn't be po faced, full of deep meaningful literary merit and serious as hell. This is a romp, from start (hero found groping his friend in an understairs cupboard) to the finish which I won't spoil. Imagine how I squeed when I read the first page and found that it was set about 10 miles from where I sit right now, on the North Norfolk coast in 1925.

There's a lot of sex in this book, and I mean a LOT. This is the kind of book where the reader can be happy that there's sex in every chapter and it isn't boringly escalated, you know what a mean, starts with a grope, moves on to a blow job, then a 69 and so on - the Hero "Mitch" takes advantage of every opportunity.

And there's PLENTY of opportunity. Even though you must suspend your belief at the door, although, to be honest, a remote Norfolk aristocratic family - I wouldn't be at all surprised if this house set-up hadn't actually happened, so it's actually quite plausible and the reasons for why everyone seems to be gay are very cleverly explained. It's not just the power of Mitch's sex-appeal that gives him the sex-filled week of his life!

It's a classic who-dunnit, too. Big house in the middle of no-where with a cast of larger than life characters, unexplained murder and it could be any one of the occupants, like all of Christie's stories I was hopelessly led down one blind alley after another, suspecting everyone in turn and happy doing so.

What I particularly liked was the lovely little touches of the language. When Mitch talks he says ass, and when Boy Morgan speaks he says arse. I heartily approve of this.

I also liked the fact that Mitch isn't some Gary-Stu private dick (although his that part of his anatomy is anything but private...) solving everything. He's just nicely curious, and is not averse to asking questions and using other methods to get what he wants. He doesn't get it right all the time too, in fact I loved the fact that when he's listening to one of the witnesses he frankly says "I couldn't help but think that Sherlock would have already grasped the salient point" (paraphrased)

The sex itself is graphic, along the same graphic level as say - Alyson's short story collections.

So all in all, recommended. I dislike asking an author for a sequel, but, in Mitch, he has a character who could cheerfully go on to other gay mysteries. I shall go and seek Lear's other works now, and will look forward to his next. A nice afternoon's read, which got me hot and made me smile too.

And really - any writer who uses whence and glabrous is always going to win my heart...
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on 2 August 2006
An entertaining gay detective romp!!

Imagine an American Poirot, but a lot less straight laced... in fact our 'hero' is well and truely bent, and spends more time out of his clothes than in them during the course of the story. His partner in crime-solving would also make a great Hastings!!

Set in the 20's, it's not exactly a historical thriller romance, but it is nice if you're looking for something a little different. Has some great twists at the end of the story, some of which I wasn't expecting in a million years... a great bedside table book!!
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on 3 October 2007
With the exception of a brief interlude of (appropriate to context) police brutality, I laughed the whole way through this book! I read it when working nightshift and my co-workers thought I was mad. Written in a great 1920's style it is very explicit and the sex scenes are very intense (and unrelenting). However, the humour in evident on every page. If you want a nice whodunnit buy agatha christie - want a whodunnit with wit and bite? Try this! Ok, as a straight woman I am maybe not the intended audience but as random purchases go, I am so glad I bought it. Hilarious.
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on 5 January 2007
At last, a new novel by one of my favourite authors. I've read several of Lear's "so-called" porn books. I say "so-called" because I'm of the opinion that writing this good, despite how much yummy sex the book contains, shouldn't really be called porn. And he does it again in this one - I wish I knew his secret! This book stands alone as a good country house thriller - you know the sort of thing: house guest discovers a body; everyone in the house is a suspect.... It's a great read, written with tongue-in-cheek humour all the way through. And, added to a great mystery, you have the sex.... Phew, Lear can write humour and plot, but when he writes sex he shifts into another gear. You get every quirk and position and all written with sheer fun and delight. He describes sex scenes like you choreograph them in your head sometimes. They're never up and in and out; you have deliciously sexy foreplay and genuine titillation that lifts each scene way above the often mechanistic level of porn.

The hero of the book, Mitch, is an American in England at a country house weekend because he's desperately trying to seduce his college chum Boy Morgan. The novel is packed with really amusing American views on the English and delightfully non-PC class distinctions. Mitch has a fondness for the "lower orders" and scenes with the local bobby (policeman) and chauffeur really hit the spot if you harbour latent servant/master fantasies. The mystery deepens around him until Mitch's life is in serious jeopardy. Can he win Boy from his fiancée and save him from a life of heterosexual gloom? Can he solve the mystery and free the innocent butler?

Buy this and then go off and order Lear's two other works of art: The Palace of Varieties (my favourite - a totally absorbing novel) and The Low Road. Writing this good should be supported.
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on 7 December 2011
I don't mean to sound like a whiner, but I didn't think this book was very praiseworthy. I loved the idea of combining a murder mystery with erotica, but I think in this case it just wasn't going to work.

The sex gets in the way of the investigation, and the investigation gets in the way of the sex. At around 200 pages you're left with not enough of either, and feel slightly disappointed. I haven't read much professional erotica before now, and so I cannot say how it compares to other works, but I feel sure that this isn't a prime work of murder mystery. I won't spoil any of the story, but suffice to say that the plot ultimately seems to come together without very much help from the main character. One wonders if the plot would have been much different had he not been in the story at all - but then one remembers all of the sex he was having with virtually every member of the household, and one corrects oneself. Aha.

It's a shame, really, because Rupert Smith, here "James Lear", isn't that bad a writer. He clearly has talent, but I feel that it's somewhat wasted on this story. If it had been lengthier then that probably would have improved it; after all, as it stands, most characters only come into the story for one brief chapter, and many others are mentioned but do not appear at all. Don't expect a Sherlock out of our chief protagonist, either; he relies almost entirely on conversation for his deductions (I use the word loosely) rather than physical clues and doesn't make many concrete inferences until the end, although I admit this does make the character more believable and approachable.

In all, then, the book was amusing while I read it, and entertained me somewhat. But I don't think I'll read it again. And if this is indeed James Lear's bestselling work, I don't think I'm interested in looking further. Again, I don't mean to sound harsh, but although it's true that Lear is quite a good writer and is receiving decoration for his work in this field (that being the gay erotica field), I can't help but wonder if that's largely because there are so few other people trying the same thing.
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VINE VOICEon 8 August 2007
Is there a label for this kind of gay lit that has proliferated in recent years? These romps are usually decently written and often quite diverting but their raison d'etre is the endless stream of graphically described sexual encounters in which just about every young guy the handsome hunky hero encounters is ready and willing. If you removed the continuous stream of sex fantasies nobody would be bothered to read these books and presumably the authors wouldn't be bothered to write them. This particular opus in totally anachronistic in the sense that the gay ethos of our modern age is transplanted to a 1920s setting. But it's all fantasy so what does it matter?
Now, are you looking for a dazzling example of a classic whodunnit from the Golden Age of the 20s and 30s? In which case do an Amazon search for the Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley.
Or would you prefer a porny read that's pretty good fun, capably written with a so-so whodunnit stitched on? I thought so. In which case the Back Passage will do nicely.
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on 3 December 2012
Ok, this is the first gay erotic novel I have ever read; and, as such, I have to admit to expecting nothing but sex sex sex; and, while there is a lot of sex, this book is so much more. The mystery at the core of the book is excellent, with betrayals, blackmail, murder, mistaken identity, deceit and many plot twists. After a while I actually found myself wanting to skip the sex scenes to get to the next piece of the mystery - that's not to say the sex scenes aren't good. They are. They're well written and very erotic and there is a valid reason for each one within the bigger story; but I did find myself wondering how much better this had been if the sex was omitted. James Lear is definitely a very talented writer. The pacing is fast and furious and the characters well written and enjoyable. I read the book in a day and promptly ordered book two 'The Secret Tunnel' to see what happened next. Highly recommended for lovers of gay fiction or mystery writers. Just remember the extremely adult content.
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on 1 June 2007
This is an absolute scream, a period piece set in the world of silent cinema and po faced between-the-wars-Britishness. The sexy bits are, ahem, not for the faint hearted, but are never gratuitous, and the plot itself is neatly put together. One of the funniest books I have ever read.
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