Book Review: The Secret Tunnel by James Lear

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Regular readers will probably remember that I absolutely loved James Lear’s "The Back Passage" it stands out to me because somehow it manages to have plot, characterisation, tongue in cheek humour, suspense, a credible mystery and yet is as porny as hell and gets away with it.

The Secret Tunnel is almost as good, almost, but not quite.  I won’t go as far as to say it was disappointing, because it wasn’t. Any book that makes me read it in entirety in two sittings and in one day can never be classed as a disappointment, but it did have differences – so if you are expecting "more of the same" you won’t exactly get it.

There are some valid reasons for those differences, though. Mitch, our ever-ready, ever-horny hero who boasts of being able to shag five times in 24 hours, has grown up in the intervening years since the conclusion of the events in TBP. He’s nearly finished his medical training and he’s been living in illegal but blissfully happy coital bliss with Vince in Edinburgh. He’s grown up a bit.

So when he has to travel alone to London on the Flying Scotsman to visit his old University chum “Boy” Morgan – his partner in TBP – Vince cancels at the last minute and Mitch considers himself a free man for the duration.

One thing with Lear’s books that is essential for the new reader to do before you start: You must suspend your disbelief. Coming from me, who nitpicks about wallpaper historicals, this probably sounds like hypocrisy, but let me explain: Lear doesn’t write wallpaper historicals. His facts are solid, and he clearly researches his work meticulously.  But in the same way that there’s ALWAYS a murder wherever Hercule Poirot or Jessica Fletcher goes, be it a country house or a fashion show (one wonders why anyone would invite them anywhere) whenever Mitch goes, every single man he encounters is either gay, bi-curious, bi-sexual or gay-for-you. Once you get over this, you can settle down and watch the smut with a smug smile, and really, all Lear does is twist a well-worn tradition to his own ends, and it works.

What didn’t work for me in The Secret Tunnel was that I was expecting Mitch to pursue the mystery in the same way he did in TBP, sleeping his way through the train to uncover one fact at a time, but it didn’t work like that. He was constantly frustrated (in more ways than one) in his pursuit of the facts and the cock which led to me feeling frustrated (for exactly the same reasons he was!) and becoming more and more confused by the ever increasingly serpentine mystery. In fact, I found myself laughing at my own expectations when I reached chapter three and Mitch had only had sex with his boyfriend. “You’re slipping, Mitch,” I said, out loud.

I think perhaps the plot was rather too serpentine, the cast list rather too large, the scope too ambitious. TBP was shorter, slicker and yes, full of sex, but each scene was particularly relevant to whatever Mitch was trying to find out—such as seducing an honest British Bobby in some toilets.  What Lear did in TBP too was to escalate the level of sex, from frottage in a broomcloset, to voyeuristic threesome wanking over the length of the book. What I found with TST was that many sex scenes were interrupted, or simply seeming gratuitous (as strange as that sounds) characters were introduced who didn’t add anything to the plot (such as the Belgium Bottom and the same policeman from TBP) and I was often confused as to what was going on. By the time Mitch did his Poirot impression and Explained It All, I had lost interest in who dunnit.

I’ve seen reviews here and there wondering if Lear had been listening to his critics and had done too much erotica in TBP, and decided to tone it down.  I’m not sure. I don’t think Lear would care tuppence for that, because TBP was such a runaway success, garnering acclaim from both sides of the Atlantic.

All that being said, if you like Lear’s work, then you will very probably like this. Mitch is still a great character, Boy is still a hot horny cuddlesome bundle if married,  (although if infidelity bothers you, then you shouldn’t read Lear at all, but I’m sure I’ve made that clear already.)  The ending – I think – makes it clear that Mitch will be back again, and I hope so.

© Copyright 2009 Erastes, All rights Reserved. Written For: Erastes
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