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A Sticky End: A Mitch Mitchell Mystery

by James Lear

Book Review by Jean Roberta


Sticky End

James Lear has done it again. As his followers know, he is "the nom de plume of a prolific and acclaimed novelist" in England. By now, James Lear as a distinct writing persona has a backlist and a cult following, as does his mystery-solving protagonist, Edward ("Mitch") Mitchell.

Each novel starring medical doctor Mitch Mitchell has a suggestive title (The Back Passage and The Secret Tunnel predate the book under discussion), is set in England in the 1920s, and features a dizzying number of male-on-male sex scenes that are integral to the plot of a brain-teasing whodunit. James Lear is not exactly like the elegant stylists of the period he writes about, but he is as much of a trailblazer as any bohemian artist of the past. James Lear has created a hybrid genre of sexually explicit mysteries, and he writes them with confidence and flair. Not a word or a clue (or a finger, or, ahem, anything else) is out of place.

A Sticky End seems to be the darkest "Mitch Mitchell" mystery so far. Like The Secret Tunnel, it involves a visit by Mitch to his friend-with-benefits from his college days, Harry ("Boy") Morgan. Mitch (originally from the U.S.) lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with his lover Vince. Whenever possible, however, he travels to London to visit Boy, his wife Belinda and their children.

As Boy's nickname suggests, he has a boyish spontaneity and an ability to rationalize his own behavior. Boy loves having his arse filled by Mitch, and loves to sleep in Mitch’s arms, but he also enjoys being a husband and father and would be shocked to hear himself defined as (gasp) “a homosexual.” Mitch has occasional pangs of remorse when he thinks of Vince or of Belinda, whom he likes very much. The sexual relationship between Mitch and Boy is an explosive secret.

Mitch arrives to find Boy alone and in shock. Belinda and the children are staying with Vivien, the wife of Boy's client and lover, Frank Bartlett. Frank is dead, covered in blood, in the bathroom of Boy's new house, which was a gift from Frank. Did Frank commit suicide? And if so, why?         

At first, Boy doesn't want to tell Mitch anything about the circumstances of Frank's death. Mitch convinces him that he only wants to help. When Boy describes a passionate affair culminating in a wild three-way with an earthy laborer (who is also a hustler), Mitch is taken aback. He tries not to feel betrayed, but he can't help wondering whether he ever meant anything to Boy, and whether Boy has ever told him the whole truth. After all, Boy has been lying to his wife about Mitch for years.

For his own peace of mind, Mitch needs to discover the truth. The case is complicated by the highly illegal status of sex between men at the time. The demimonde of disreputable bars in which men of a certain persuasion risk arrest every time they exchange looks or invite a new acquaintance to join them in the private rooms upstairs is necessarily a world of subterfuge and false fronts. Everyone in that world is a potential blackmailer or blackmail victim. Many of these men are married to women; in some cases, they supplement their meager incomes by selling sexual favors to "toffs," men of means who can afford to pay them. The sellers justify their trade by claiming they don't enjoy it (after all, they aren't perverts), but they need to support their families.

The atmosphere of this apparently archaic sexual "underworld" has survived longer in some actual places than in others. Such conditions undoubtedly still apply in countries where homosexuality is still illegal, sometimes punishable by death. Although this reviewer saw men in full female drag, ignored by passers-by, in the London tube in 1973/74, the atmosphere in the one gay bar in a town on the Canadian prairies into which I “came out” in 1982 was dark, smoky and characterized by general distrust. Sex between men was legalized in Britain and Canada in 1968—and sex between women has never been illegal in Britain or its former colonies—but some attitudes die hard. The homophobic villain in A Sticky End has counterparts in the real world, even now.

The men Mitch investigates in every way in this novel come from a range of social classes and have different occupations, but they share a common fear of being discovered and deprived of everything they value, including trust and respect from everyone they know. In this world, love is elusive and a very mixed blessing when it happens. Several men in the shadowy network around Frank Bartlett care about their fellow-outcasts, despite the odds. Some of them are capable of intense loyalty. What Mitch knows about Boy doesn't suggest that he is one of them.

Days pass, and Boy remains in police custody after giving evasive answers to the officers who come to his house to remove the body. There is a real possibility that Boy will be executed by hanging if Mitch doesn't uncover the truth in time. Or if he does.

As in all well-plotted mysteries, the resolution is surprising but foreshadowed by cleverly-placed clues. The conclusion of the story is bittersweet. In some sense, Mitch is relieved when the messy truth is revealed in public, but the "innocent parties" (Vince and Belinda) are both hurt and unsure of whether they can forgive. The next "Mitch Mitchell mystery," assuming there is one, will have to deal with the aftermath of the events in this one. Although these novels can be read as a series, each can be understood on its own, and each is as self-contained as the bathroom (locked from the inside) in which Frank Bartlett died before the beginning of this one.

Whatever else happens in the world of these novels, lust springs up in the unlikeliest places, and no man is immune to the charms of another man. Those reliable facts make these books entertaining and strangely reassuring. Individual men are all too mortal, but it seems there is no way to kill the magnetic joie de vivre that unites the cocks, hairy faces and male backsides of the world.

Jean Roberta
July 2010

A Sticky End: A Mitch Mitchell Mystery by James Lear
(Cleis Press, May 2010; ISBN 1573443956)
Available at: Amazon | Amazon UK

© 2010 Jean Roberta. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written

About the Reviewer:†Jean Roberta is the thin-disguise pen name of a writer who teaches mandatory first-year English classes in a Canadian prairie university and who writes fiction (erotic and otherwise), research-based articles, opinion pieces and reviews. She joined ERWA in December 1998, and has never looked back. Several of her stories can be found in the "Treasure Chest" gallery. Over sixty of her erotic stories have been published in print anthologies, and Eternal Press has released her single-author e-collection of erotic stories in various genres and flavors, Obsession (2008).
Jean is a staff reviewer for the monthly reviews site, Erotica Revealed (edited by D.L. King). She blogs on Livejournal as "Lizardlez" and at Her website ( is a work in progress.
Read Jean's full bio at Erotica Readers & Writers Association.

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