2019 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Mystery — Finalist
Private investigator Dan Sharp finds himself caught up in a political murder.
When the husband of a Queen’s Park aide runs off to escape his gambling debts, private investigator Dan Sharp is hired to track him down. As the city’s political landscape verges on the bizarre — with a crack-using mayor and a major scandal looming — Dan finds himself pitted against a mysterious figure known for making or breaking the reputations of upcoming politicians. It’s not until a body turns up on his doorstep that Dan realizes he’s being punished for sticking his nose into dirty politics. It’s left to him to catch the killer and prove his own innocence.
About the author
Jeffrey Round is the Lambda-Award winning author of the Dan Sharp mystery series. Twice nominated for a ReLit Award for both poetry and fiction, he also penned the comic Bradford Fairfax mystery series and the stand-alone mystery Endgame, dubbed a “punk rock reboot” of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. His first two books, A Cage of Bones and The P-town Murders, were listed on AfterElton’s Top 100 Greatest Gay Books. You can find him on Facebook and at http://jeffreyround.com.
- Short-listed, Lambda Literary Award for Gay Mystery
Excerpt: The God Game: A Dan Sharp Mystery (by (author) Jeffrey Round)
Things weren’t going well for private investigator Dan Sharp. He had just spilled coffee on his new suit, and he sat dabbing ineffectually at the stain with a damp cloth. Just five minutes ago, he’d learned the warehouse that housed his investigations office would close permanently come summer, to be gutted for condominiums. This was prime real estate overlooking the Don River; it was bound to happen sooner or later. Like it or not, he had three months to find a reasonable substitute for the place he’d thought of as a second home for the past five years.
On top of that, the food for the wedding had come in priced at nearly twice what he was expecting. They’d already tossed out the idea of flowers as an unnecessary expense, but this was a gay wedding and food was a must. It went without saying that theirs had to be a spectacular menu.
Weddings were not Dan’s idea of fun. Not because he was afraid of commitment; he just didn’t like circuses, whether three-ring or of the domestic variety. For Dan, a vow meant giving your word and sealing it in your heart. Ceremonies were for the crowning of monarchs, the consecration of altars, and the opening of shopping malls and theme parks.
Getting married was Nick’s idea. At first, Dan had laughed. He thought his partner was joking. They’d barely known each other a year then. He shook his head and said, “Thanks, but I’m not the marrying kind.” Nick had stared him down. “Well, I am.” Then he got up and left the room, leaving Dan sitting there dumfounded.
That wasn’t the end of the subject. Not by a long shot. Dan wasn’t sure whether they were having an argument or just a difference of opinion. Nick could be garrulous one moment and silent as the grave the next. Something about him demanded attention. Put it down to all the police training. Even off duty, cops commanded authority; they didn’t confer it on others. Any time they disagreed, Dan felt as if he were being given the third degree by an officer of the law investigating with probable cause.
For Dan, it boiled down to whether he wanted to buy into an institution that had long denied the validity of non-traditional relationships. But he hedged, couching it in material terms when they next discussed it: “It’s a racket, Nick. Thousands of dollars for what? To say ‘I love you’ in a church?”
“How much is my love worth to you?” Nick asked.
Low blow,” Dan countered. Still, he knew better: to give Nick an inch was dangerous. He went in for the kill. “As an institution, marriage is conservative and backward thinking. I’ve given you my word. Do you need to own me on paper like some sort of real estate transaction?”
“It’s a statement, Dan. A very radical statement. It says we’re willing to stand up and be counted in a world that denies our legitimacy. They hate us. They outlaw and kill us in many places around the globe. Why not say we’re proud of who we are in one of the few countries where we can do that? And in case you’re wondering, I wouldn’t marry just anyone. It’s you or no one.”
In the end, they had compromised: a small ceremony, but legal. Not much pomp and lots of standing up to be counted among those who mattered to them. Which still didn’t mean Nick was willing to settle for cheap, Dan reminded himself. And that was why he found himself staring at a quote from a very chic catering company offering a menu created by a three-Michelin-starred chef for twenty-five people at four hundred bucks a plate. Maple-glazed bison on black truffle pasta, grilled Mission figs stuffed with Stilton and wrapped in prosciutto, wild boar meatballs in almond sauce, an arugula-walnut-cranberry salad, and lemon tiramisu with white chocolate lace pastry to finish. All this with hand-selected cheeses and wines. Nothing but the best. Yes, it was more than impressive, but was it worth it? Dan struggled with that. Ten thousand dollars would go a long way toward paying for his son Kedrick’s education, for instance. Or feeding a homeless person or getting LGBT youth off the street and into safe living conditions.
Being conscientious had its price.
Dan pushed the quote aside and picked up the phone to tell Nick they needed to find another caterer. He was interrupted by a knock. A shape hovered over the frosted glass like a milky alien outline. Cold calls were rare in Dan’s world. Most first-time clients were either fearful of consulting a private investigator or else so obsessed with their privacy that they contacted him by phone or email.
This one apparently wasn’t put off by such concerns. The door opened on a big man with a bulky torso, bristling with energy. On seeing Dan, he entered without waiting to be asked and offered a large, furry hand. “Peter Hansen.” The name sounded vaguely familiar.
Hansen’s gaze went around the office, gauging and appraising: old furniture, raw brick, original art, classic texts on the bookshelf. A man in a hurry. Better to make your assessment first and then decide what you want.
“You come recommended,” he said, seemingly satisfied. “Yeah, you’re the one I want.”
It wasn’t much of a compliment, but Dan could tell a man like Peter Hansen wouldn’t have come had the recommendation been half-hearted.
He named a client Dan had worked for several years previously. The case hadn’t been unusual or noteworthy, but Dan’s results were both quick and decisive. That, more often than not, was why people kept coming to him.
Hansen placed a valise on Dan’s desk, snapped it open, and slid a black-and-white photograph under Dan’s gaze.
“My husband,” he said in a tone that suggested a deep ambivalence.
Dan looked down at a thin, handsome face whose expression hovered somewhere between uncertain and fearful. A man trying to escape notice.
“How long has he been missing?”
Peter regarded him warily. “How did you know he was missing?”
Dan looked him up and down. “You don’t look like the kind of man who would pay someone to sort out his domestic affairs if you thought you could do it yourself.”
“Fair enough. Tony’s been missing since the weekend. Friday, probably. I was away for the evening. He wasn’t home when I got back in the early hours on Saturday.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I don’t want sympathy. I want you to find him.”
Dan overlooked Peter’s abruptness. “Do you suspect foul play? Kidnapping? Anything dire?”
Peter shook his head. “Not at this point.”
“Where do you think he might be?”
“He’s got a fear of flying and he doesn’t drive, so chances are he’s right here in the city. I’ve cut off his credit cards.”
“Any obvious reasons for disappearing? An affair, perhaps?”
“No.” Peter paused. “Maybe. We had an argument. Over money.”
“Did you hit him?”
Hansen made a face. “No.”
Dan pushed the photo back and looked at Peter. “Well, then that pretty much covers it. My guess is he’ll come home when he cools off and runs out of places to stay.”
“I’m not so sure,” Peter added. “He’s a gambler. He lost a lot of my money and doesn’t want to have to confront me over it.”
Nor would I, Dan thought. “How long have you been married?”
“I still say he’ll be back when he’s ready.”
Peter stabbed Dan’s desktop with an angry finger. “I came here to hire you.”
“And do you want your husband back or just the money?”
Peter bristled. “Just find him. Please. Before he causes me any more embarrassment.”
“Have you been on my website? Do you know my terms?”
Peter nodded. “I have. I do.”
“Okay. I’ll take a look around. If I agree to take on the case, I’ll draw up a contract and we can set up a time to go over it together in the next couple of days.”
Peter shook his head. “No contract. I don’t want anything on paper.”
Before Dan could protest, Hansen put up his hand. “I’m in politics, Dan. My boss is a high-profile minister at Queen’s Park and there’s an election coming up. I can’t have a whiff of this hitting the street. I want no paper trails. I need your absolute discretion.”
He reached into his case, drew out an envelope and placed it on the desk.
“Here’s your retainer. I don’t want a receipt. All I care about is results. Everything you need to know about Tony is in here.” He glanced down at the caterer’s quote on Dan’s desk. His eyebrows went up. “Thinking of getting married?”
“My advice? Don’t do it. They’re always more trouble than they’re worth.”
He turned and strode to the door. Then, with one hand on the knob, he looked back at Dan. “If you need more money, let me know.”
The door opened and closed. The whirlwind subsided. Dan waited till Hansen’s footsteps receded, then slit open the envelope. He thumbed through a pile of thousand-dollar bills, ten in total, wrapped in a sheet containing Tony Moran’s particulars. His eyes ran down the page. Tony was a high school graduate, with a further couple years at a business college. A few of his past jobs were noted, including a stint as assistant manager of a Wendy’s franchise. Not a big achiever, then.
Dan glanced at the picture again. Despite Tony’s good looks, there was something skin-deep about them suggesting he might attract a certain type of partner quickly, but not stay the term. His polo-shirt-and-sweater combo smacked of conservative taste, but with a narcissistic undertone. Then again, he had a low-rent sort of sex appeal. The sort of man a Peter Hansen might look on as material for moulding, someone to impress with a helping hand out of the gutter. Pygmalions were a dime a dozen.
Three local addresses were listed at the bottom of the sheet. Dan suspected they would turn out to be gambling dens. He picked up the bills again. It was a lot of money, far more than what he normally asked for as a retainer. It seemed Peter Hansen was serious about wanting his husband returned. Maybe Nick would have his chi-chi caterer after all.
Another deftly crafted novel by a master of the genre, The God Game is the fifth title in author Jeffrey Round's outstanding Dan Sharp Mystery series.
Midwest Book Review
A slick, intelligent mystery that allows time for characters and settings to breathe deeply. Round proves once again that he is a master of detail. His skilful narration and dialogue insist the reader be present, as Dan follows a tortuous trail of clues through Toronto neighbourhoods and beyond. Whether Dan is conversing with his son, fighting an attacker, or battling his personal demons, Round manages to infuse each page with deep humanity.
Liz Bugg, author of the Calli Barnow series
A good, solid mystery, and a timely one.
Literary Treats (blog)
I enjoyed the hell out of this novel. I think it’s the best Dan Sharp mystery to date!
Jon Michaelsen, author of Pretty Boy Dead
A sharp-witted mystery rife with political drama.
I never thought Queen’s Park could provide such a wonderfully dangerous playground for murder and mayhem, but Jeffrey Round has done it again and kept me up until the wee hours wondering if Dan Sharp will find his killer and survive his own personal mayhem.
Sheila McCarthy, actor, writer, director
Turns Canadian politics into thriller material … Readers who enjoy political intrigue will want to give this a look.
Other titles by Jeffrey Round
Lion's Head Revisited
A Dan Sharp Mystery
Lake on the Mountain
A Dan Sharp Mystery
A Dan Sharp Mystery
Dan Sharp Mysteries 6-Book Bundle
Shadow Puppet / The God Game / After the Horses / and 3 more
A Dan Sharp Mystery
Dan Sharp Mysteries 4-Book Bundle
Lake on the Mountain / Pumpkin Eater / The Jade Butterfly / After the Horses
After the Horses
A Dan Sharp Mystery
Dan Sharp Mysteries 3-Book Bundle
Lake on the Mountain / Pumpkin Eater / The Jade Butterfly
The Jade Butterfly
A Dan Sharp Mystery