Thursday, 20 February 2014

'Beach Reading' by Mark Abramson

Five of the best words in the language when it comes to me and novels? ‘First in a new series…’

As any readers of this blog will know, I love a really good novel series. I love being able to return to characters and places and check in to see what’s been going on. I love series that extend over years and show our characters changing and moving on with their lives. Not too much – not too rapidly – not so much that the series is knocked all out of shape. I like a literary soap opera, I guess. For that I blame David Eddings’ ‘The Belgariad’, which I read at sixteen, and Armistead Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City’, which I read at twenty.

Just this week I’ve discovered Mark Abramson’s ‘Beach Reading’ series, which share with Maupin a setting, a gay milieu and sensibility… but also share with Eddings a central character who is only just becoming aware of his supernatural psychic powers as he weaves his way through a fabulous, mythic landscape of heroes and villains. In the case of Abramson’s thirty-something hero Tim Snow, he’s got precognitive dreams and a hankering to solve mysteries Jessica Fletcher-style, while getting on with his everyday life as a waiter in the exciting city and whooping it up as much as he can.

What I love about this concoction is that is doesn’t take itself too seriously at all. I love Maupin desperately, and always have, but there’s no denying that ‘Tales’ has become important and canonical. Abramson is unencumbered by any of that, and can gleefully build up a brand new ensemble cast from scratch and indulge in the silly adventures, coincidences and outrageous scandals that the earliest, frothier ‘Tales’ books indulged in. So, here we’ve got his Cages-aux-folles employers in their restaurant-bar with their gruesome show-tunes lady, and the hopeless drunk straight lady who lives upstairs from Tim, the showgirl and her rich invalid brother, the two dodgy exes, the new young love interest, the hot French trolley dolly and various waiters, activists, right wing preachers, older timer cab drivers… and various other colourful passersby.

There’s also the out-of-town Aunt, who Tim confides in and so we are privy to their letters, though Book One finishes with her about to arrive in town for a visit. Synopses for the further books seem to promise more Cosy Mystery activity, and so I’m happy. The idea of a murder-y, gay- sexy, slightly psychic novel series is just delightful to me – and one narrated in this breezy, gossipy style is even better.

I love the way Abramson doesn’t so much set up potential plot threads as strew them everywhere like festoons of gaudy tinsel. I can’t wait to carry on reading the rest of this series.

I’ve said nothing about the plot of Book One. Ex-Jock and mildly-psychic waiter Tim Snow falls in with an ex-Broadway hoofer on a San Francisco cable car. She gets him stoned and he is ineluctably embroiled in a number of different plots to shame / depose and/or murder a crazed homophobic closet case preacher who is coming to town on the very night of a massive disco tribute to long-dead dance queen Sylvester. Throw in a whirlwind romance with a sexy out-of-towner, a strange encounter with a dodgy ex and a few new friendships with some local legends. It’s all a winning combination. I’m onto the next volume already.

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