Review: An Angel in Hollywood (Hurrah for Hollywood 1) by Parhelion

When confronted by a rampaging comic genius, what’s a studio publicity fella to do?

Review by Erastes

I believe this book was out once with Torquere, but lucky you lot, if you didn’t manage to get hold of an ecopy back then (it was published in 2005 I think) there’s a free version on Parhelion’s website, together with the other books in the series which I’ll be reviewing at some point.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know I’m a bit of a fangirl of Parhelion’s. I have no idea who he or she is, and I don’t really care. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that it is an alter ego Whoever they are they can write and that’s all that matters.

Parhelion has a knack of immediately–immediately–being able to drop the reader into whatever period that’s being written about, and Parhelion writes quite a wide stripe of time eras, although mostly in the 20th century, which is rather neglected, so that’s wonderful.

In this instance we are in the early days of the Talkies, around 1926 ish and the scene is set for us immediately with no need for tub-thumping back story:

“Two, please.  Ah, how charming.”  Sidney Beck smiled as he checked his new cards.  It did not mean much.  He had beamed at everything he had been dealt all evening.  His large hands fanned his cards shut before he shoved more chips and markers into the pile in the center of the fancy mahogany table.   Across the green baize from him, my Cousin Vincent took a long puff from his stogie and tried to look indifferent.  The other poker players seated in the private room in the back of Vincent’s nightclub fell silent, waiting for him to make his move.

A fella who had already folded, a character who owned a couple of Southern California department stores, snapped his fingers for me to get him a refill on his drink.  While I poured him the house’s best substitute for rye at the private bar in the corner of the room, he gave me a smirk that I did not like.  I came back over to the poker table and stood by his chair, offering him nothing but a cold eye.  Not until the smirk slipped off his plate did I hand over his hooch.   Just because I was the stake for this hand of cards was no reason for me to take such guff.

I was used for a white chip back in 1925 after my oldest brother Frankie had shipped me out west to live with Cousin Vincent, the owner of three social clubs around Southern California.  Back home, our family firm was having a small misunderstanding with the Garibaldi Medical Supply Company and my mother had put her foot down.  She was still sore that I had gone to work juggling figures and guarding tank trucks doing delivery runs around Broadway rather than finishing senior seminary, even though I did not have a vocation and was already real tired of the Jesuits. 

I knew better than to explain that to Ma.  I was the baby of a family of six and had learned the hard way not to tell anybody anything.  You can bet I was not going to talk to Frankie about how hot I was to blow town and why.  So, even though I had heard that my cousin Vincent was both a sanemagogna and a loffari, I just kept quiet and climbed onto the train.

I love Angelo’s voice, it has real echoes of Runyonese, a lovely mixture of slang and over-formal words with few contractions. In stark contrast to Angelo, we have Sid who speaks just like you would imagine a thespian to speak, over-blown, blousy and full of literary allusions. When they do have a conversation it’s utterly delightful.

Don’t expect a traditional romance, in fact as endings go, it’s not a “romance” at all, but more realistic than that. It’s more a coming-out story, a bromance layered with many issues and Catholic guilt. Parhelion has a gift, like Renault, for putting a lot of story into things that aren’t really said, or are only hinted at, and when it comes to men talking–especially hard-boiled men like Angelo–that works perfectly.

If I had any issues with the book it was a little rushed and a little muddled. The characters have to solve a dilemma and that’s needed because it forces them into each other’s company for a length of time, but there’s almost a touch of slapstick and farce about it (entirely deliberate I’m sure, seeing as how when and where it’s set) but still, I found the almost Keystone Cops speed of how things went as they rushed around Los Angeles to be a be dizzying and confusing.

But overall, it’s well worth a read, and even better it’s free!

Parhelion’s website

Read here

Review: The Emperor by Lucius Parhelion (short story)

Eli is the personal assistant/bodyguard for the one of the most prosperous ranchers in New Mexico Territory at the turn of the Twentieth century. The Emperor, as Eli calls his boss, has a mysterious past, no one quite knows exactly how he came to the Territory, though there are plenty of rumors.

In 1908, Eli finds out the truth when the Emperor’s relatives from England come for a visit. Could it be that he and the man he’s been working for all these years have more in common than he knew? And can the two of them make a life together despite their relatives?

Review by Sally Davis

Let’s not talk about the cover, eh? Also the blurb mentions a mysterious past that is solved the minute one reads the prologue. Pity that. It’s a short story, just 40 pages.

The prologue sets a scene 19 years before the main action. Young Harry is in big trouble with his stuffed shirt of a brother, having been caught out in the company of a person of very high status in the kind of establishment that spells ruin. Obviously the person of high status can’t be held accountable so poor Harry has to carry the can. I found this section very good. The understated emotion and clipped conversation spoke of the type of society where reputation is everything. Harry is ruined, his family can no longer receive him, he cannot stay in England, in fact cannot stay anywhere in the Empire! But his brother does what he can in offering him a choice of exiles.

Harry chooses the cattle ranch in New Mexico and departs, bravely resigned to his fate.

The story proper is told from the 1st person point of view of Eli Fletcher y Baca, private secretary to ‘the Emperor’ – Harry Crewe, English ‘remittance man’ and owner of the River-R, one of the largest ranches in New Mexico – and it starts with a bang. Eli proves that ‘private secretary’ is perhaps an understatement as he lays out a thug who is disrespectful to people of Latin heritage and, by extension to Crewe who employs them. Eli was born on the Emperor’s ranch, served in the Rough Riders and is a thoroughly useful individual. Eli is also very discreetly gay.

That Crewe values him is obvious from their exchanges and they have that ease together that means they can converse or ride in silence comfortably when crossing the miles from Las Vegas to the River-R.

On the journey they get word that Crewe’s English relatives are waiting at the ranch.  Crewe and Eli discover that Crewe’s brother is dying and wishes to have a final meeting. The news is carried by Crewe’s sister-in-law, a nephew and their bodyguard, Kelly, an odious man who is plainly sniffing around for a scandal. Eli is anxious not to be the source of that scandal but Crewe’s matter of fact confession of his own proclivites – “I do not have the temperament for marriage” – and Eli’s laconic response put temptation in their way.

There are many interesting little historical details dropped into the story, and I enjoyed the flashes of Western life – bad roads, a horse that veers to the left, difficult journeys for furniture. The sex scenes are unfussy, with the participants refreshingly no nonsense about what exactly they want. As usual Parhelion is adept at showing the emotions of the characters as much with their actions as their words, especially in the case of Crewe who is the archetypal buttoned up Brit without ever quite slipping into stereotype. The words too pack a punch. There is a reference to sunflowers that had me gulping.

All in all a short but very satisfying read. One to be savoured and read again

Author’s website

Available from Torquere

Review: Mergers and Acquisitions by Lucius Parhelion

Bob and Trip are best friends and business partners who are negotiating the sale of their company when Bob decides to come out of mourning for his dead wife, Melinda. Since Melinda was his cousin, Trip understands what Bob is going through, and while he figures Bob is as straight as they come, he has broken down and offered comfort at the risk of ruining their friendship.

When Bob finally does decide to turn his attention to love again, though, it’s Trip he finds himself caring about. Trip isn’t sure he can believe it, and he doesn’t want to lose what they do have together by rushing into things. Can Bob convince Trip that it’s not just a whim, and that they can find more together than a company merger?


Review by Sal Davis

Torquere has had a bit of a hiccup on their website. The cover displayed for Acquisitions and Mergers: The Four of Wands is actually that designed for Sanctuary: The Four of Swords. However the proper cover, I’m sorry to say, is no improvement. I turned the page quickly and got onto the good stuff.

The story is set in 1960. Dr Trip Doyle is an MIT man and a genius. His business partner, widowed Bob Eck, is negotiating the sale of D&E Optical Engineering to BTC, a company with access to defence contracts, desperate to get their hands on Trip’s patents. Trip is discreetly gay. Bob knows about it but they are keen that BTC shouldn’t know – the defence people wouldn’t like it.

That is one plot strand. Another is the affectionate relationship between brainy Trip and charming Bob, both of whom adored and mourn Melinda, Bob’s wife. Bob went through a very bad patch after her death and Trip moved in with him to keep him going. One night with Bob frantic and very drunk their relationship developed, Trip delivering, as they put it in the story, an ‘owblay objay’. Strung out by the tension of the sale, moving offices etc, Bob shocks Trip by declaring his love for him. The rest of the story concerns Trip’s somewhat drastic efforts to help Bob establish whether he’s straight and deluded or honestly has had a change of orientation, and Bob’s efforts to prove his sincerity in the face of everything Trip throws at him.

It has the trademark flashes of humour, the banter between the main characters, little period details slotted into the narrative and unfussy sex scenes. I enjoyed it very much but it was, perhaps a little lightweight. There were suggestions of plot at the beginning of the story that were disposed of very easily and I felt disappointed that more wasn’t made of them.

But it’s still a very good story with plenty going on in the 50 pages, well worth both the price and 3.5 stars.

Available from Torquere Press Inc

Review: A Faint Wash of Lavender by Lucius Parhelion

Post World War Two finds Laguna Beach in its heyday as an artists’ colony. Tony runs his uncles’ Grocery store in the town where a man of his bent can hide among the eccentrics who call the place home, including his Aunt Cora, who’s in charge of this year’s Pageant, where denizens of Laguna Beach recreate great art.

Tony’s carefully laid out life is about to take a hit from old army buddy Ben, who comes and stay while he sorts out his life. Tony doesn’t have a problem helping out an old friend, but this particular old friend comes with pitfalls. Ben is Tony’s type, and always has been. When Tony and Ben are asked to participate in the Pageant, they’re thrown into each other’s arms, literally. Will Tony be able to keep Ben in the dark about his ‘lavender’ tendencies, or will Ben himself have a few confessions that are sure to knock Tony for a loop?

Review by Erastes

Right off I’ll say that Parhelion hasn’t yet struck a bum note with me, and this is no exception. Somehow Parhelion manages to write cleary, beautifully and believably about post-war eras and settings that not many authors are dealing with.

On the surface this is a simple enough story, Tony meets up with old ex-regimental mate Ben who he served with in the Second World War. Tony knows that he fancied Ben during the war, on top of the hugely strong bond they made fighting side by side across France and Germany but he thinks that–at the distance of a few years, and knowing that Ben is planning to become a missionary within a religious sect–he can have a good visit with his friend and send him off again, without revealing his feelings. The problem is that Tony is living in the artist/performance neighbourhood of Laguna Beach and this is the underlying subtext of the book.

Without this clever subliminal subtext it would just be a case of best friends realising they want each other, but it’s made much more because of it. It’s a social group Tony feels comfortable with when he’s alone–the faint wash of lavender relates to the slight swishiness of his aunt’s friends, some more obvious than others. But when Ben arrives, Tony is concerned that Ben will pick up on the lavender tint of his friends and put two and two together.

It’s an interesting look at a burgeoning gay community, although too brief, I felt. I got the impression that Parhelion was going for, that of men who were allowing themselves to be a little more obvious in what they deemed a slightly safer environment, but the characterisations of the lavender washed themselves were a little too thin for me and smacked of stereotyping. I don’t think this was at all Parhelion’s aim, but the time allowed, given the length of the novella, didn’t give any possibility of seeing them in anything but 2d. It’s a shame, because that’s rather the crux of this sub-plot, that Tony feels comfortable in this mildly outre atmosphere, but is also struggling with the fact that as a manly man he should be ashamed of his friends. But as we don’t see his friends that much, this fact falls a little short.

Tony and Ben are depicted beautifully. The dialogue hits notes that seem just right, not too girly and not too porn-slanted. The way they eventually confess to each other that they are pretty sure they are gay is believable. And the device (the pageant) where Tony has to admit to himself that he hasn’t lost any of his yearnings for Ben is well done. There’s an amusing line about The Last Supper which made me snort tea through my nose, too.

The rest of the story is so readable, it’s hard not to gush. I wish I was more of a literature teacher so that I could dissect Parhelion’s style and work out what they are doing that’s so right, but I can’t. If you haven’t read any Parhelion, start here and then I guarantee you, you will seek out all the others. I don’t know who you are, enigma that is Parhelion, but keep on doing what you’re doing. (although, give us a novel, one day, please?)

Author’s Website (out of date)

Buy from Torquere Press

Review: Silver-Silver Lining by Lucius Parhelion

In 1958 meteorologist Dr. Rob Lanard is in Las Vegas to observe the effects of the first nuclear test explosions on the weather. His boss on this job is Dr. Phillip Argent. The two men share more than just their boredom on the job; they are both pitching for the same team, so to speak.

It’s not the kind of thing men of their position dare get caught at, though, and Rob and Phillip must perform a careful dance, making sure they don’t say anything that could give them away. Can a surprise day off and a storm conspire to let them get together the way they’ve been wanting to?

Review by Sal Davis

As usual I’m starting with the cover. I don’t know who designed it and, frankly, I don’t want to. It tries, but it’s a mess and does the story no favours at all. Luckily, this is a novella that can shrug off an infelicitous cover, more than holding its own just on the power of the story and quality of the writing.

In 1958, at the height of the Cold War, men associated in any way with the nuclear programme could not afford to come under suspicion of any activity that might render them a security risk. Dr. Rob Lanard, the POV character, is all too aware of this and it is interesting to see him identify the watchers and to see the safeguards he has put in place to protect his secret. Intelligent, accomplished and an asset to the programme, he knows none of that would cut any ice if it was discovered that he was a homosexual. It also makes courting very edgy and one of the joys of the book is the careful way the two protagonists sound each other out in such a way that if the other is straight the feather light come on can be easily dismissed.

Today it seems ludicrous that two men, friends and colleagues, would not dare to be in the same hotel room, even for the most innocent of reasons, for fear of arousing suspicion. So it is very satisfying that they not only manage to establish that their interests run along the same lines, but manage that much needed ‘alone’ time. The sex scene is of the ‘we haven’t much time so let’s not mess about’ variety and works very well for the characters involved.

The style of writing is snappy and sharp with just enough period colour thrown in to give it some flavour without being overwhleming or feeling contrived. For instance mention is made of the newly published “The King Must Die” as a must read. There are also some phrases that are placed just so perfectly that I read them aloud for the pleasure of hearing them said.

For the most part, the text was clean and easy to read and I only spotted one editorial problem, where it looked as though a couple of lines had been copy pasted out of order but I suspect it was deliberate and just didn’t work too well. However, there is one thing that really irritated me and that was down to Torquere again. At the end of each chapter – and at 50 odd pages did it really NEED chapters? – there was a box that said [Back to Table Of Contents]. I was just really getting into the story, reading fast and accidentally touched the box at the end of chapter 2 and – yes – was sent back to the table of contents. Infuriating! And not really necessary with a short story. /rant

Parhelion, yes. A definite re-read and I’ll be looking for other works.

Author’s website

Buy from Torquere Press

4.5 *

Review: Spurs & Saddles: Oil Well Ben and the Hollywood Rustlers by Lucius Parhelion

When Ben gets a chance to leave his New Mexico home to visit his childhood friend in Hollywood, he jumps at it. 1930s Beverly Hills is full of bait and switch tricks that Ben just isn’t used to, especially when he meets up with Johnny, someone he knew a long time ago, better than he’s known anyone since. Between actors, studios and Tom’s suspicious wife, Ben thinks he’s walked into the lion’s den.

Luckily, Johnny is willing to help out, and becomes Ben’s guide through the tricky world of moving pictures. Ben thinks he might like to make Hollywood a more permanent part of his life, but not everyone and everything are as they seem. Can Ben find a way to reconcile all the pieces of his new life, or will he and Johnny have to part ways?

Reviewed by Jean Roberta

The ‘Spurs and Saddles’ line from Torquere Press consists of same-sex romances about cowboys in various settings and eras. Forget John Wayne and old reruns of Gunsmoke. These stories completely rewrite the ‘western’ genre.

Lucius Parhelion does a brilliant job of describing same-sex relationships in a time when “coming out” was so dangerous that double-entendres, secret signs and discreet meeting-places were absolutely necessary. And the “gay culture” of the time existed only in cities.

In this novella, a ranch owner in 1920’s New Mexico suspects that he might be a “Nancy boy.” He is only about as old as the century, so he can’t be absolutely sure. If a young man likes the fit of another fellow’s trousers, he doesn’t ask his old friends for advice on how to go courtin’. And whatever he does, you can be sure he does it in secret as long as he’s living on the family ranch.

But what if oil is discovered on Ben’s land just before the Stock Market crash of 1929? Well then, Ben is one lucky son-of-a-gun. And his opportunities sure open up.

There isn’t a lot of explicit sex in this rollicking tale, but the action is fast-paced, the dialogue sparkles, and the details are true to the period. The reader learns early that Ben is no fool in high-stakes negotiations:

‘For years, Ben McClure had battled land, cattle and climate to try to win a hard living from the high plains ranch that had been his father’s dream come true. This year, for no better reason than luck, that fight was over and Ben had won. Not that his victory had come easily. In Ben’s opinion, any negotiations in a new and booming oil patch were a lot like being sewn up in a canvas sack with five snakes, four of which were diamondbacks, and then having someone kick the bag. But Ben’s pa had known everyone who settled this part of the Llano Escatado, the stake plains, so Ben knew them all too.’

So now that Ben can afford to travel, where does he want to go? He wants to follow Tom, the handsomest man he ever met, to Hollywood, California, where Tom is burning up the screen as a ‘cowboy’ in moving pictures. Along the way, Tom married a diva, a blonde spitfire named Miss Inez Altura. Tom didn’t mention her in the two letters he sent to Ben, inviting him to come for a visit.

When Ben rolls into California in the most luxurious train carriage available, he finds some new surprises. His first view of the local sights is impressive: ‘So far, the men in Hollywood were an awfully fine looking lot.’

The movie cameraman who asks Ben if he’s an ‘extra’ looks strangely familiar. Then Ben recognizes him:

‘You’re Janos. Your pa was Mr. Kovacs, the peddler who took photographs and fell so ill. James Kovacs.’

‘Johnny Smith now.’ He could see the Adam’s apple shift as Johnny swallowed. Ben could not blame him. He felt a touch queasy himself. They had not known each other long; but, thanks to Tom, their few weeks spent together had been real memorable.

Johnny takes Ben to the Red Gulch, a ranch north of Hollywood that serves as a set for western movies. Ben’s wrangling skills come in handy, but the bright and perky Miss Blake is a little harder to handle than a horse. Is she sweet on Ben?

Johnny learns that the motion picture business is all about appearances. Just as the Grade B pictures that Johnny films don’t bear much resemblance to ranch life as Ben has lived it, the boy-meets-girl ‘romance’ in the pictures is a cover for a whole other way of doing things. Ben learns how he can get ‘paid’ for helping Johnny out, and he also learns that a bigger company is very interested in the Red Gulch. And ‘Oil Well Ben,’ as Tom calls him, is holding all the aces.

Tom the movie star doesn’t appear in the story until about halfway through, and by then his appearance has been long anticipated. How has he become so famous so fast? Is his marriage with Miss Altura a Hollywood ‘arrangement,’ a friendly understanding or a love-match? Has he bamboozled Ben, or does he intend to?

For that matter, why is booze so easy to find when it can’t be legally bought or sold?

Ben shows himself to be shrewd when he needs to be. He is no stranger to maverick cattle or slick dealers. Love, however, is a new experience for him. While figuring out how to win at the poker game of the motion picture business in hard economic times, Ben also needs to learn who is really on his side, and whose side he wants to be on.

If you can never openly tell the truth about how you really feel, is there a place for flirting, courtship, flowers and valentines? Ben and the partner of his dreams have to answer that question for themselves. From beginning to end, this twentieth-century ‘western’ is a wild and witty ride.

Author’s Website

Buy at Torquere

Review: Peridot by Parhelion

Steve is a jeweler who specializes in rare gems. He’s a rare gem himself for the 1950s, a bachelor with a certain reputation. Nate, his best friend and business partner, has never had that sort of reputation, so when Steve gets the call that Nate was caught in establishment that caters more to his type, he goes home to see what’s up. Nate’s got problems of his own, as well as the most supportive and nosy family a man could ask for. He has things he wants to tell Steve, but will society allow it to happen? Parhelion’s Peridot is the tale of an unconventional romance in a very conventional time, full of laughs, tears, and ultimately, friendship.

Review by Erastes

I’ve read a lot of gay short stories since I started in this game, and not many stand out, sad to say, I do have favourites that I return to… but that’s another story…. It generally takes something like a Saki short story to stick in my head.

So the discovery of this little gem (pun not intended but unable to avoid) was a nice surprise. I had no idea who Parhelion is, never heard of him/her before, so I had no expectations going into the story – I read it because it was marginally “historical” being set in the 1950’s but actually that wasn’t obvious in the slightest, as it turned out it was being told in flashback. There’s not much actual sense of historical context – other than the masquerade that gay men had to live under (but then, they still do) but once I’d read a couple of pages I didn’t particularly care.

Basically, it’s the story of Steve Corvey, who – although he has aspirations to cut loose and travel the world – is forced through circumstances to take over his father’s jewellery store in a small town in California, and becomes entangled with an extraordinary extended family called the Jowletts and ends up staying in the small town. He takes on and sponsors a young man called Nate – who he admits that he does not feel attracted to at all – but who over the years becomes his best friend and eventually his business partner. Having a partner enables Steve to travel and to indulge in sexual activities he’s unable to do in his small town. So when in Burma on a buying trip/sexual holiday he gets a call that Nate’s in trouble, he flies home to do what he can to help, unaware that the trip will change his life.

I can’t say more than that, but please, if you haven’t read this, I highly recommend it. It’s well written, thoughtful, unexpected and has a real resonance that will (should) hang with you for days after you’ve read it.

The only thing that disappointed me was that at 14,500 words it’s just too short. There is material in this for a full-scale novel, there’s so much richness and back story half hinted at – and the Jowletts alone could easily fill a book by themselves.

However despite the truly TRULY awful cover, this little tale is reminiscent of “Winter of our Discontent” by Steinbeck and as that’s one of my favourite books of all time, that’s a big thumbs up for me. If you like your homoerotica to be tinged with angst and internalisation, then you’ll love this.

Parhelion – if you are out there, say Hi, will ya? I’d love to see more of this kind of stuff.

Author’s Website

Buy it

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