‘Let’s Get Criminal’: Murderous Fun

St. Martin’s Press publishes mysteries like Harliquin produces romances. Upwards of 300 a year are produced in all varieties of genres, each one briefly given its moment on the bookstore shelf before being replaced by the next batch. With this stream flowing across the book reviewer’s desk, it’s hard for one novel to stand out, particularly a debut book.

Yet “Let’s Get Criminal” hooked me from the first page, when the arrival of Professor Perry Cross to the State University of Michigan threatens to unravel the longtime relationship between professors Nick Hoffman and Stefan Borowski. Hired under suspicious circumstances, with Borowski’s recommendation, Cross brought with him a well-bred air of menace, so that when his body was found floating underneath a campus bridge, he left behind plenty of suspects, including Hoffman and Borowski.

But while Cross is at the center of the mystery, Nick Hoffman is the star of the book. Jealous of the past Cross and Borowski apparently shared, Hoffman reels from strength to weakness and back, using his good humor and acidic observations to keep himself standing. When Cross’ death makes them suspects to a homophobic detective, Hoffman charges into the investigation.

“Let’s Get Criminal” is more than just a mystery story, because Raphael winningly portrays Nick and Stefan, highlighting their differences and examining how their love bends and changes under the pressures of the investigation. There’s humor here, but also menace and sadness, and even triumph at the end.

The trade paperback version carries a green banner on the cover announcing it is part of the “Stonewall Inn Mysteries,” a series which includes works by George Baxt, Mark Richard Zubro and Phyllis Knight. While I accept the idea that gay-themed mysteries should be marketed to gays, I never thought of “Let’s Get Criminal” in that context. This is a book I would recommend to anyone who loves mysteries.