Idyll Fears by Stephanie Gayle is the second book in the Thomas Lynch series, where the gay Chief of Police must deal with homophobic opposition as well as a frantic search for a missing six-year-old with a rare, life-threatening medical condition.
Idyll Fears is the second entry in Stephanie Gayle’s Thomas Lynch series. Thomas Lynch is the Chief of Police in Idyll, a small fictional town in Connecticut. Part of the drama in Idyll Threats—the first book in the series—was Lynch being outed as gay. While still a big deal today, back in 1997—when this book is set—it was an even bigger deal for a high-ranking public figure to be gay. Particularly in a small town. It was big news, it was scandalous, and not everyone wanted (or wants) to be a poster child or role model for underrepresented groups.
Chief Lynch is now dealing with the fall out of being outed, and he’s not sure if he’ll stay in Idyll. The town is still buzzing, and Lynch is still getting to know the town, the men on the police force, and his formidable secretary, Mrs. Dunsmore, an older woman who has been in her position for a long, long time. Anonymous, homophobic phone calls are being made both to his home number and the police station. The calls are logged, complete with the caller’s phone number thanks to the new technology of *69, which the callers aren’t sophisticated enough to realize is being used. “Homo,” “Queer,” “We don’t want your kind here.” Happy Holidays, Chief!
It’s just days before Christmas, and a snow storm is on the way. A call comes in that the candy shop in town had a break-in overnight. The shop is owned by a gay couple, and anti-gay slurs are written on the store’s walls. Then, a young boy, Cody Forrand, goes missing. Of course, the impending snow storm would be dangerous for any kid, but Cody has a rare medical condition that makes it deadly for him to be outside in the cold weather.
Just when things are looking up in Cody’s investigation, Lynch’s squad car is vandalized. On the driver’s door, over the town emblem and the words POLICE CHIEF, someone wrote “FAG” in Day-Glo orange spray paint. In addition to the investigation of these hate crimes, the missing boy, and a case of related arson, the flu is raging through the overworked police department, and the mayor is throwing around his weight in an attempt to influence an investigation. But the main investigation is Cody’s disappearance, and Gayle does a solid job juggling these various crimes and investigations.
Throughout the novel, there are situations that ring true to what a gay law enforcement professional might have to deal with. For example, this scene in the police station’s locker room between Lynch and his officer Hopkins:
“Before I could get the shirt off its hanger Hopkins came around the corner, naked and dripping.
“Whoa!” he yelled.
“Hey!” I shouted.
He looked about, panicked. I looked away. God, now I’d have that image in my head. I unbuttoned the shirt. His bare feet slapped as he ran away. “Wheres my towel?” he said. I got my shirt on. “What did you do with my towel?”
“I haven’t seen your towel. I got here two seconds ago. I need to change. Give me a moment and I’ll have a look.”
“No! No. I … I’m fine.”
“You’re wet and naked. How’s that fine?” I pulled on my pants.
“I’ll be okay. Are you done yet?”
“No.” I shoved my feet into my boots. Smoothed my shirt. If anyone else were here, Hopkins would be laughing, making comments about the size of his sausage. Because it was me, he was acting like a goddamn girl. “I'm done.” I grabbed my stuff and exited the room. Outside, a grinning Dix hovered, towel in hand. He saw me and lost his smirk.
“Give it to him,” I said. “He’s about to have a heart attack.”
In my office, I said some bad words. I shadowboxed for two minutes. Threw jabs, hooks, and uppercuts until my heart raced from exertion, not rage”
There’s the typical frat boy-like prank of one officer taking another’s towel, but Hopkins’s homophobic reaction is instant. From his perspective, he is put in the position of being “a girl” because he erroneously assumes Lynch views him as a sexual object. Gays are mocked and derided as not being real men but also feared as sexual predators.
One of the few complaints I have about the novel is a particularly gratuitous sex scene. At about the halfway point, the Feds are brought in to help investigate Cody’s kidnapping. The lead agent is a woman, Teresa Waters. One of her agents is Matthew Cisco, whom Lynch finds attractive. The feeling is mutual, and the two eventually end up in a tryst. The sex scene is graphic and out of sync with the style of the book. Gay or straight, a whole page detailing fellatio seems a bit over the top in what was otherwise a standard police procedural. Although, I do have to say that the line, “I reached up and played with his testicles like they were Chinese therapy balls” made me laugh. I’m no prude.
Otherwise, this is a solid police procedural that kept me guessing about who did what. The way the missing child search dragged on seemed as excruciating as it would in real life. “Do more!” I wanted to yell. And the insight into the family life of caring for a child that has a rare, life-threatening disease—particularly how it impacts the other child in the family—is devastating.
Residents of Connecticut will enjoy the integration of real locations like the Wallingford Library and the Thimble Islands. In the end, Chief Lynch grows both personally and professionally with the help of someone who, at the beginning of the novel, seemed more of a hindrance than a help.
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Chris Wolak is an avid reader of crime fiction, history, and classics. She writes about books at WildmooBooks.com and is the cohost of the podcast Book Cougars. You can also find her on Twitter @chriswolak.