Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Our town's lesbian lawyer legal thriller author

I simply did not know about Terri Breneman or anyone remotely like her: an attorney in the Federal Public Defender's Office in St. Louis who writes crime fiction with a lesbian hero.

Terri forestalls the opportunity for an awful pun on the part of her critics ("a lesbian dick") by making her hero Toni Barston a prosecuting attorney, not a detective.

I was told about Terri and her work by her boss, who has the greatest name, ever, for a federal public defender: Lee T. Lawless. I got in touch with Terri through Lee, and she was nice enough to send me the books in The Toni Barston Series, including the new baby, Compulsion (Bella Books).

Bella Books bills itself as "the premiere publisher of vibrant and irresistible fiction for and about lesbians," and after reading half of Compulsion, I am certain Terri has found the right publisher. This book might be out of place in a hardcore legal thriller or murder mystery series - a little too much nesting and petting and sweating for the Raymond Chandler set - but it has lesbian leisure reading written all over it.

No spoiler alert here, because I've only read half the book, and I'm stopping there because I've hit a snag in the plotting that broke the spell of the dream for me. I won't say what it was, so I don't ruin the dream for somebody else. Maybe this plot element won't trip you up, as it did me. I will say I thoroughly enjoyed myself, until I suddenly didn't anymore, which happens, for me, with literary forms where the plot is central, like a legal thriller.

I'll now move on to a form of recommendation I've never had the pleasure to offer before, as a book critic, and that is to say if you're a lesbian who likes to read, this book has your name on it. You are entering a world where everyone is or could be a lesbian: judges, prosecuting attorneys, detectives, cops, mob bosses, mob enforcers and (of course) the owners of lesbian bars. Whether this is the fulfillment of a fantasy or a revelation of how things really are (but only those "in the life" know), I would have to think this world would be a welcome trip for a lesbian reader to encounter.

And, if you like to read but are not a lesbian, you also might want to give Compulsion a go. I found it fascinating to see the world through eyes so completely different from my own. Not to focus on the sexual, but one bedroom scene was particularly edifying. I learned that lesbians also can experience premature sexual climax, or at least Terri Breneman's lesbian hero did: "Sorry," Toni said quietly, then giggled. "Didn't see that coming."

In an entirely different sense, I didn't see Terri Breneman coming, but I am happy she is out there in St. Louis, doing her highly unique thing. I see from her blog that she's off to Provincetown for Women's Week, Oct. 15-19, where she is sure to connect with a great many readers who come to her books better prepared - but less wonderfully surprised - than I did.

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