Title ~ Dying to Play (A Mike King Mystery)
Author ~ Mark Zubro
Publisher ~ MLR Press
Published ~ 8th January 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance, Mystery Crime Thriller
Gay PI saves the team.
Gay PI Mike King is called upon to investigate what is happening to a minor league baseball team. He follows the trail of drugs, death, and destruction through the deadly dangers he finds in the rural community. Through the lives of the hot studs involved in baseball, he has to navigate to find the truth about what is happening to them and their dreams.
Mark Zubro's latest gay-themed murder mystery is a major departure for this talented and prolific author. He's been writing mystery fiction around gay characters since the early 1990s, resulting in two award-winning series: the Paul Turner mysteries and the Tom and Scott books.
It looks like he's got a new detective, but he's neither a Chicago cop (like Paul Turner) or an amateur sleuth (like Tom Mason and his baseball-star husband, Scott Carpenter), but the equally hot and intriguing private detective, Mike King. Unlike the other two, who have long-term stable relationships and family, Mike is alone except for his collection of eccentric employees, some permanent, some on-call. In a new direction for Mr. Zubro, his series star has both the opportunity and reputation for falling in love with at least one guy in each new case, bedding more than one, and often enough, investigating the death of one of them. His cohorts kid him about falling in love with corpses.
In "Dying To Play", our erstwhile hero falls into bed with two players while investigating undercover (as a ballplayer) the sabotage of a minor league baseball team owned by a blustering billionaire. It's a story of long-simmering factional feuds in a small town that has almost disappeared, due to a bad economy, neglect, corruption and murder galore.
Mr. Zubro has a long-standing penchant for speaking truth to power, and "Dying To Play" is no exception. His target, in this case, is the old-guard town fathers and Major League Baseball, both of which have a vested interest in killing a fading star player for a variety of reasons - all of which revolve around money. Both sets of bad guys target Mike as he gets dangerously close to the truth, and it's only his trusty gay band of three: Duncan, a young, button-down personal assistant with remarkable skills; Jerry, the hot, young, fearless "muscle" of the group and; Georgia, a charming, but dangerous, drag queen who morphs from a seductive young woman, into a surprisingly violent bag lady, a ninety-year-old man and a stunning New York lawyer. She is the color of the story and, I'm sure, will figure big-time in future installments of the Mike King series. I look forward to it.
Some people don't really "get" Mr. Zubro. They have a hard time pigeon-holing him into an appropriate gay fiction category. His main characters are very sexy, they do spend a lot of time admiring other men's bodies (particularly in the crotch area), and they do have passionate sex. But it's not erotica. There is no gory detail. I rather like that. I've spent too many hours paging through sex scene after sex scene to pick up the next three pages of plot. That never happens in a Zubro mystery. The plots are the main thing, the sexiness is only color, though the relationships between the men take a strong second place to the mystery itself.
His books are very well-written and usually very clean, depending on who his publisher is at the time. There were a couple of errors that jumped out at me while reading "Dying To Play", but just a few, unlike so much gay fiction, which seems to be particularly prone to elementary school spelling and grammar errors.
And it almost wouldn't matter. What best describes any Mark Zubro novel (and this one is no exception) is that, above all else, they are always huge fun. I admit I've become rather addicted to this author's work, and almost always read his books in a single sitting. There's always a lot of banter, sarcasm, snarky cultural references and more than just a hint of parody. If you demand verisimilitude and credibility, don't look for it in a Mark Zubro book. Like much of the general mystery genre, it requires a serious suspension of disbelief and a willingness to go with the flow. After all, how else could you survive a minor league ball park named "The Butterfield Memorial Pledge of Allegiance Park", or a hotel where "rivulets of rust spread from every air conditioner", or a super drag-queen/international operative named Georgia De'Jungle?
Personally, I'm addicted, and I can't get enough. I can't wait for the next installment in the Mike King series.