Amagansett resident Vincent Lardo rightly calls his sexually explicit new novel The Jockstrap Murder a “gay answer to 50 Shades of Grey.”
Indeed, expect more man love than murder mystery, though a dead body does turn up early on, in a male underwear supermodel’s Greenwich Village apartment. The man’s been strangled with a designer supporter for male genitalia, prompting tough Pulitzer Prize investigative reporter and man about town Mike Gavin to pursue leads, though he’s easily waylaid, getting laid by his young lover, a famous tennis pro.
The book, Lardo’s 12th, is published by MLR (ManLoveRomance) Press, which calls itself a “pioneer of the m/m genre,” featuring “tales of mayhem, lust and romance,” and referring to Lardo as an “icon” of gay fiction. With wry confidence, MLR owner Laura Baumbach urges website visitors to read MLR books, noting that “Reading IS man’s second favorite activity to do in bed.” Twosomes are the preferred M.O. here though threeways occur, and crossover dallying by heterosexuals is not infrequent. How can one tell if someone is a “member of the same fraternity?” As Lardo muses in the voice of one of his characters, “Some call it gaydar.”
Readers not fully cognizant of the prevalence of gay culture, especially in Manhattan and especially among the rich and famous and rising political, entertainment and athletic stars and wannabes, will be educated by The Jockstrap Murder and perhaps somewhat taken by Lardo’s inventiveness in fashioning sex scenes that have a whiff of Victorian erotica about them. The impression is owing to a playful, affected style that relies on prissy lingo (“cavorted lewdly”), colorful terms for male anatomy, and occasional witty repartee, laced with sarcastic, catty dialogue. There are also outrageous analogies, such as: “Wallace attracted rumors (mostly generated by himself), the way navels attract lint.” Literary allusions abound, though it’s doubtful many people will recognize their provenance besides the author and his protagonist.
The Hamptons, of course, get a shout out. At the end, however, loose ends are left dangling (to coin a phrase), and the resolution is both structurally and ethically unsatisfying because it comes as an afterthought and also because it allows the perpetrator to get away with murder. Still, those looking for a different kind of diversion may well find The Jockstrap Murder a hoot.