Review: Snowball in Hell by Josh Lanyon

It’s 1943 and the world is at war. Reporter Nathan Doyle is just back from the European Theater when he’s asked to cover the murder of a society blackmailer–a man who, Homicide Detective Matthew Spain believes, Nathan had every reason to want dead.

Review by Alex Beecroft

It is 1943. When the body of a feckless younger son of a high society family is dredged out of the La Brea tar pits, Detective Matthew Spain knows it’s a case that could change his life. He doesn’t initially suspect how much, even though from the start he is fascinated by the reporter on the case; war veteran Nathan Doyle. As the investigation progresses, it becomes obvious that the victim was a blackmailer. Nathan has a dangerous secret, which could lose him his job and his reputation – he’s gay. As Matthew finds himself falling in love with Nathan – much to his own confusion and distress – he also has to face the fact that Nathan is fast becoming his prime suspect in the murder investigation.

Appropriately for the historic setting of the book, Josh Lanyon writes in a different style from his usual urbane voice. The beginning of the story is told in a hard-boiled style reminiscent of Sam Spade and Phillip Marlow. There’s a ‘Maltese Falcon’ feeling about it which brings to mind black and white movies, gangsters, women in little hats, femmes fatale and rapid-fire dialogue reminiscent of machine guns. It gives an excellent feeling of the period, but I also found it choppy and rushed. I sometimes had difficulties in following who was who and what was going on.

However, a couple of chapters in, either the choppy style began to smooth out, or I began to get used to it and to be sucked into the story. The murder mystery continued to be something you might expect to have seen at the movies, complete with intrepid female reporters, dames in distress, a night-club crooner and one of our heroes being held captive by the baddy’s goons. Far from being overdone, however, this convinced me as charming historical detail.

What really impressed me, however, was the love story. Here the historical detail is more gripping and less charming. You share Nathan’s very real fear of exposure and the loneliness that causes him to court that exposure in meaningless encounters in bars and parks. Seeing his yearning and desperation, both from his own point of view and from Matthew’s fascinated observation, makes the tenderness of the love scenes all the more beautiful.

This is not the world of OK Homo, and although Matthew’s journey of self discovery proceeds with remarkably little angst, the pain that Nathan carries makes this one of the most believable studies of a gay relationship in the past I have read. And because it was believable and painful, also one of the most touching and heartwarming at the end.

This book is available as a one-short at or in an anthology with co-author Sarah Black in “Partners in Crime 2”

Partners in Crime 2 Amazon UK   Partners in Crime 2 Amazon USA

Snowball in Hell from Aspen Mountain Press

Author Website

6 Responses

  1. Alex, from your references to The Maltese Falcon it sounds like Lanyon is recreating the world of film noir. What a great concept! I attempted a similar approach by emulating the classic Hollywood western a la John Ford. I generally don’t read short stories but I may have to check this one out!

  2. Sounds great – just my sort of thing!


  3. Wow, that sounds really good. I’d like to read it.
    Great review.

  4. Mark, I almost used the phrase ‘film noir’ and then I realised that I didn’t entirely know what I meant by it 🙂 so I played it safe. But yes, that was it made me think of, and I certainly have no hesitation in recommending it. I loved it anyway!

  5. Wow, that sounds really good. I’d like to read it.
    Great review.

    Thanks, girluknow! yes I’m very glad I got to read it it’s one of Josh’s best and that’s saying something!

  6. Thanks for the review, Alex! Much appreciated. And, yes, I know the tone was a little bit of a risk, but it felt…I dunno…appropriate? Maybe I was watching too much film noir while I was writing. *g* Anyway, thanks very much.

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