««««DOCTORS WEAR SCARLET, by Simon Raven. This is a novel that is hard to review without revealing too many spoilers. The first cover to the left, from the UK first edition, scrupulously avoids any spoiler, and is the most attractive cover I've seen for this novel. The early US paperback from Avon Books comes pretty close to a spoiler without quite getting there, and offers the tantalizing teaser, "The terrifying story of a man destroyed by the most evil of all perversions." Whatever could that be??? That could be anything. Probably a good reason to pick up this book and read it. And only too true. Almost any other cover that's been done for this book over the years gives the game away far too literally. The late Karl Edward Wagner put this novel among his Top 13 horror novels of all time, which is high praise indeed considering Wagner was a true aficionado. But you know, it is also nearly a spoiler to reveal that this is a horror novel. I envy anyone who might have picked up the first edition without any inkling whatsoever of what's between the covers. I am lucky to have had something very near to that experience, in that I originally purchased this for my Kindle quite some time ago, and by the time I got around to reading it, I had quite forgotten my reasons for purchasing it, aside from the fact that I've heard a lot of great things about its author, Simon Raven, and I had previously purchased one of his other novels, THE FEATHERS OF DEATH, which I still have not yet read. So when I started reading DOCTORS WEAR SCARLET, on a whim, on my Kindle, I had no idea what I was getting myself in for. And that is the beauty of it. I cannot recommend this novel too highly, especially for anyone interested in well-written, psychologically astute excursions into the macabre. DOCTORS WEAR SCARLET has enjoyed numerous editions in the UK over the years, as Simon Raven is a quintessentially British author. But in a general sense, this can be considered to be a bit of a neglected novel of its kind. Raven was prolific and gave us many highly regarded literary works, but this elegant foray of his into horror fiction deserves to be read by anyone who appreciates the outré.
««««« THE FANCY DANCER, by Patricia Nell Warren. It's curious that it's taken me so many years to get around to reading THE FANCY DANCER by Patricia Nell Warren. It's set in a small town in Montana and concerns a young gay Catholic priest attempting to come to terms with himself after he falls hard for a troubled local half-Native American man of his own age. The setting, in the rural landscape of the Rocky Mountains, resonates with me since I grew up in Laramie, Wyoming. The book had a powerful impact on me even now, at age 48, though I've known I was gay since I was 11 years old. Despite the fact THE FANCY DANCER was published in the US Bicentennial Year of 1976, it's striking how relevant it remains to this day, especially with respect to America's debates on morality, so-called "family values," and the persistent stubborn opposition by the Catholic church to evolving societal views on homosexuality and especially same-sex marriage. So let's raise a toast to Patricia Nell Warren in this 40th anniversary year of THE FANCY DANCER ... a novel that anyone who's gay or sympathetic ought to read for its insight and its generous spirit. I truly loved it.