Titles: The Yellow Canary, The Black Cat, The Blue Parrot, The Red Raven
Series: L.A. After Midnight Quartet
Author: Steve Neil Johnson
Publisher: Amazon/Kindle Unlimited
Length: 240 Pages, 246 Pages, 277 Pages, 252 Pages
Category: Historical Mystery/Suspense
Rating: 5 Stars
At a Glance: The L.A. After Midnight Quartet is a turning back of the clock and watching LGBT+ history as it unfolded against the backdrop of its gritty murder mysteries. There are sorrows in the series’ final pages, incalculable losses, and that I willingly binge-wept my way through them is a testament to the author’s skillful storytelling.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurbs: The Yellow Canary: Los Angeles, 1956.
It’s a dangerous time to be gay. Nobody knows that better than closeted prosecutor Paul Winters, the rising star in the L.A. District Attorney’s office. But when the police insist a gay man arrested for soliciting committed suicide in custody—and Paul knows it was murder—he risks everything to uncover the truth.
Thrown together with a strikingly handsome vice cop with a dark past, the two men race to expose a conspiracy at the highest levels of government that threatens to tear the city apart.
The Black Cat: Los Angeles, 1966…
Crusading prosecutor Paul Winters is on the cusp of attaining his dream to become the next District Attorney of L.A. But a mysterious death and the troubled, dangerously handsome cop from his past, Jim Blake, may derail everything he has worked his whole life for. As the two men race to unravel a string of murders against the backdrop of racial strife and political turmoil in mid-sixties Los Angeles, they uncover a terrifying conspiracy that could destroy them both…and Paul is forced to choose between pursuing his dreams…and justice.
The Blue Parrot: Los Angeles, 1975…
Crusading attorney Paul Winters is drawn into a web of fear and peril when Jim Blake, the dangerously handsome cop from his past, is framed for murder. As they follow clues left by the killer, their search leads them through the freewheeling world of sex and drugs and gay bathhouses in mid-seventies Los Angeles, and into the dark and chilling history of psychiatric abuse in California’s most notorious state mental hospital. And Paul is forced to choose between two very different men…and face the truth that he loves them both.
The Red Raven: Los Angeles, 1988…
Crusading attorney Paul Winters has settled into a quiet life representing AIDS patients as the disease takes a deadly toll in the community. But his peaceful existence is shattered when a brutal bathhouse murder and a briefcase stuffed with blackmail money propel him into a nightmare world of fear and danger. Against the backdrop of 1980s AIDS activism and depraved government indifference, Paul and investigator Jim Blake embark on their final case. As they follow the clues, Paul and Blake are hunted by murderous adversaries who will stop at nothing to bring them down. And they are ultimately forced to examine their past choices—and to ask… is it too late for us?
Review: Steve Neil Johnson’s L.A. After Midnight Quartet spans four decades and chronicles the life and times of Paul Winters, the one-time Deputy District Attorney who aspired to become the Los Angeles DA but whose aspirations were quashed when it was discovered he was gay. Paul’s life may have taken a harsh and unjust turn when he went from the presumptive shoe-in for the DA job to offers suddenly drying up, along with any bankable cases, but there are many things that remained constant throughout the years: his group of friends; his long-time lover, David Rosen; and the man he can’t seem to stop himself from wanting, Jim Blake.
The Yellow Canary introduces readers to these characters and their world through the skill of a storyteller who knows how to set a scene and lure readers into the atmosphere of a time long gone by, and that time is strikingly compelling. There is a noirish tone to this book set in and around old Hollywood, where there is always a secret to keep, justice to pursue, and murder and corruption afoot. I loved everything about the story, and my first thought upon finishing it is that fans of Joseph Hansen’s Dave Brandstetter or Michael Nava’s Henry Rios might find a lot to love in Johnson’s brand of mystery. I felt the same upon reading the final words of The Red Raven as well. Even as I did it gasping through sobs.
Paul and Blake meet under the most inauspicious of circumstances, in 1956, after Jim arrests a man in a bar for “inappropriate touching”—a thorough lie bred by the panic of being identified as an undercover vice cop. That man subsequently turns up dead in his jail cell. Cue Blake’s immense guilt as well as the question of whether the prisoner’s death truly was a suicide, or if something much more sinister befell him while in police custody. Paul and Blake pair up on an independent investigation in an effort to get to the truth in a case that has otherwise been labeled closed. They soon discover they work well together, which boils over into a personal attraction that is not only a danger to them but causes no small amount of confusion in Paul as he finds himself in love with two very different men.
Paul and Blake’s dedication to pursuing justice is consistent throughout the series, even at the risk of Blake’s job as a cop, not to mention the threat to their lives from the criminal element they hunt. The hallmark of their working relationship is to leave no stone unturned—although there are circumstances under which Paul will leave a thread untied. Whether it’s justifiable or not is one of those lovely gray areas. What matters most is that those who deserve to be punished, are.
Paul’s relationship with David endures over the course of thirty-plus years, as long stretches of time pass during which Paul and Blake don’t see or speak to each other, and despite the times when it seems as though Paul and David have grown apart and that their love might not be enough to pull them through. In every instance where Paul and Blake have occasion to reunite on another case, the old feelings and the intense turmoil of their mutual attraction bubble to the surface, causing Paul no small amount of emotional seesawing. This interior conflict remains consistent and persistent, obliging readers not to weigh Paul’s infidelity so much as to comprehend his reverence for two very different men.
The final book in the quartet, The Red Raven, not only delivers a mystery based in and around an abhorrent crime but also confronts the intense sorrow and incalculable losses and immeasurable injustice of the AIDS epidemic at the hands of a negligent government, an unequipped medical community, and a dispassionate society. The series as a whole is a turning back of the clock and watching LGBT+ history as it unfolded, but this book hit exceptionally hard. I wept for those who were lost, I wept for their suffering, and that’s the truest testament I can give to how much I’d grown to know and love the characters as I binged my way through their lives.
You can buy The L.A. After Midnight Quartet here:
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[zilla_button url=”https://books2read.com/The-Red-Raven” style=”black” size=”large” type=”round” target=”_blank”] Amazon [/zilla_button]</center