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Monday, January 3, 2011

A Vintage Affair by Josh Lanyon

A Vintage Affair by Josh Lanyon
Publisher: Loose ID
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (151 pgs)
Other: M/M, menage, M/M/F, Anal Sex, Voyeurism
Rating: 5 cherries
Reviewed by Phlox

Message in a bottle.

Somewhere in the cobwebbed cellar of the decrepit antebellum mansion known as Ballineen are the legendary Lee bottles -- and Austin Gillespie is there to find them. The last thing on his mind is a hot and heavy romance with handsome bad boy Jeff Brady. But Jeff has other ideas and, after one intoxicating night, so does Austin.

The only problem is they have different ideas. Jeff doesn’t believe in love at first sight, and even if he did, he’s buried more deeply in the closet than those famous missing bottles of vintage Madeira. Popping a cork or two is one thing. Popping the question? No way. No how.

Unless Austin is ready to give up on another dream, he’s going to have to figure out how to make sure the lights go on -- and stay on -- in Georgia.

The lure of a possible fortune in wine, a handsome bad boy and murder – and poor Austin’s just arrived at Ballineen. All the elements of Southern Gothic are here in abundance: the decadence, the decay, a highly dysfunctional, wealthy clan in decline, lives bound by traditions worn about the edges and questionable morals. Once the elements are in place, though, Mr. Lanyon turns the genre on its head. Much to my relief, this is not the heavy, plodding miasma of Faulkner. Austin’s observations and internal commentary render the story darkly funny rather than depressing, and the Cashels are close enough to over-the-top to qualify as parody. (Even the Irish place-name of the house is a sly wink at Gone With the Wind’s Tara.)

As a sommelier, that rare breed of person who truly has the ability to distinguish all the subtle nuances of a good wine rather than simply mouthing the right oenological terms, Austin could easily have come across as an elitist snob. Instead, he immediately charms the reader. Without too much in the way of “telling”, we know in the first few paragraphs that Austin faces his task at Ballineen with a certain sense of imminent disaster. This is a man whose reputation and livelihood are at stake, and yet he maintains a healthy level of sardonic wit about the whole mess (“Just make a hard right after the end of the civilized world.”) Despite his father’s disapproval, the occasional snarky remarks from people who don’t know better, and a former stint as an underwear model, Austin has no doubts about his identity. He is both gay and a sommelier and makes no apologies for either.

Jefferson Brady, who soon becomes Austin’s lust interest, is another story. Selectively closeted, Jeff sleeps with men, but bristles at the suggestion that he might be gay. The tension between the two men, the constant push and pull of identity and assumption, of denial and doubt, lends a tinderbox snap and spark to the story, delicious and anxious. With an unwavering single first-person POV, Mr. Lanyon lets the reader see enough of Austin’s life and his past that we desperately want to see him happy. Perhaps the only issue I had with the story, and it’s a small one, is that I would have liked a little more at the resolution. Call me sentimental.

Though I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, this was my first Josh Lanyon book. It most certainly won’t be my last. With beautiful, literate prose, he weaves a tale that defies categorization, (Southern Gothic Parody Mystery Oenological Gay Romance is not a genre I’ve come across before) and he does it with style. At no point did I find it necessary to suspend disbelief. Austin’s knowledge of and love for wine comes across as genuine, as an integral part of his character. His over-achieving family, Jeff’s deeply closeted denial, and even some of the neurotic Cashels transcend parody, all too believable in their worst moments. With love scenes that achieve lyric status and a bright, engaging mix of humor and tension, this is not your garden-variety romance. This is a Ch√Ęteau Margaux among the Gallos.

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