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Book Review: Husbands and Lap Dogs Breathe Their Last

Husbands and Lap Dogs Breathe Their Last. David Steven Rappoport. Mainly Murder Press, March 20, 2016, Paperback and E-book editions, 245 pages.

Reviewed by Ed Sarna.  

David Steven Rappoport’s debut novel, Husbands and Lap Dogs Breathe Their Last, is an eccentric, charming whodunit. While it has the feel of a cozy mystery, it is unique and funny enough to be enjoyed by even those not normally drawn to cozies.

The protagonist of this witty, clever book is amateur sleuth Cummings Flynn Wanamaker, a short, chubby gay fifty-year-old with a high IQ and a knack for solving mysteries. He is invited by a friend to attend a meeting of the Mathers Society, a steampunk occult group in Chicago. All goes as planned until the event’s speaker, Surendra Hickok, sporting a Victorian wedding gown complete with lace veil and train, spontaneously combusts. Otto Verissimo, prolific author of gay romance novels, engages Cummings to investigate the circumstances of the death, as well as retrieve the Craddock Brooch, a pendant the victim was wearing at the time of her inadvertent incineration. Accompanying Otto is his personal assistant, Mandrake, a “hobbit-like creature” dressed in kilt and yarmulke, along with his miniature poodle, Barbara Cartland.

To add to the intrigue, twelve hundred miles east of Chicago in rural Horeb, Maine, a decomposing body is discovered in a dinghy belonging to Ernestine Cutter, a good friend of Cummings. Before relocating to Chicago after meeting his husband, Odin, Cummings had resided in Horeb. As his Chicago investigation progresses, he begins to wonder if the two deaths could somehow be linked.

As in all good mysteries, and this is one, there are numerous plot twists and red herrings. Cummings Flynn Wanamaker is a likeable individual, worldly yet able to look at the people and circumstances around him with a childlike openness that few adults are able to retain. The descriptions of Chicago neighborhoods are spot on. The plot moved along at a good pace, only occasionally bogging down before quickly regaining momentum.

If there were any weaknesses other than the occasional slowdown in pace, it would be with some of the characters. While they were all quirky and fun, some came across as a bit cartoonish. And while the names Mr. Rappoport gave them were hilarious, it was at times hard to remember who was who. This was further complicated by the fact that a number of the characters had their birth names, as well as their pen/society names. And there were a lot of characters. But in saying this, I have to admit I did laugh out loud more than once with the introduction of various cleverly named individuals.

Any perceived weaknesses are far outweighed by the fun had in reading this book. It’s a quick read, and once started is hard to put down. While the steampunk occult setting adds flavor to the characters, the story could have just as easily taken place in a circus tent or Wall Street boardroom. I highly recommend Husbands and Lap Dogs Breathe Their Last. This is the first in a series of Wanamaker books and I can’t wait to see what adventure Cummings next finds himself in.


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