THE TANGLED BOY by Caro Soles (Baskerville), 249 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNN
The temp has topped 25 degrees, which means it's time to lighten up. Fortunately, mystery is in the air as the fourth annual Bloody Words conference descends on Toronto this weekend, bringing together some of the best scribes of this popular genre.Not that mysteries have to lack substance. Writers like Walter Mosley and Peter Robinson, both on the conference slate, can get weighty. But let's be honest: we want thrills from our thrillers, and we don't need to discover the meaning of life in the process.
A familiar setting is also a plus, and Caro Soles's The Tangled Boy joins a growing library of Toronto-based stories, this one set partially in the gay ghetto.
Suburban teen Cory, a budding transvestite on the brink of coming out, gets lured to a party hosted by known user of young boys Jordan Baker. There, Cory and Jordan have a botched sexual encounter, and Jordan later turns up dead.
Soon, Cory's getting menacing phone calls. Terrified and alone -- his relationships with his family, especially with his father, are deteriorating rapidly -- Cory seeks solace from Len, a gay friend of the family who likes Cory more than he thinks he can handle. Then two more party-goers wind up murdered.
The plot pursues two threads: who's after Cory; and what will unfold as Cory's friendship with the much older Len deepens? The answer to the first question isn't exactly a stunning surprise, but Soles does handle Cory's painful sexual awakening with sensitivity.
On the man-boy sex issue, she tries to walk the tightrope. She sees some ambiguity here, portraying the teen as sexually voracious and Len as smitten and inevitably to be dumped. But you do still wonder why a guy can't help a teenager come out without doing the deflowering personally.
Fun, though, to read a mystery that takes you to the Second Cup at Wellesley and Church, to PJ Mellon's and then back to the 519.
Soles, the founder of Bloody Words, reads at the conference Friday (June 14). See readings.