In Kompes’ (The Middle Man, 2016, etc.) mystery, an aging drag performer tries to save his business—and his life.
Chris Marlowe is just trying to keep everything going: his looks, his sex life, his act, and his failing club, Tamburlaine, which he runs as a tribute to a dead lover. But when he starts a new relationship with a young cook named Ingram, who appears suddenly and offers to revamp Tamburlaine’s kitchen, Chris feels energized in a way that he hasn’t in years. He also reconnects with Jericho Taylor, an old friend and fellow drag performer who went on to Broadway success years ago. Jericho offers to do some performances at Tamburlaine in order to bring in much-needed crowds. Chris is just beginning to enjoy this unexpected second act—performing as real-life 1960s musical comedian Rusty Warren to a packed house—when he suffers a sudden, stroke like attack. A medical examination reveals that someone had slipped aconite into his bourbon to poison him. Chris recovers and gets to work on his big plans for the new Tamburlaine, which include an in-house theater troupe, a stellar restaurant, and a partnership with Jericho; he also continues his courtship with Ingram. Everything is falling into place when Chris is attacked outside the club by someone wielding a barrage of Molotov cocktails. It’s clear that before Chris can enjoy his success, he’ll have to figure out why someone wants him dead. Kompes writes in a confident, playful prose that perfectly captures Chris’ snarky worldview. Here, for example, he describes Chris’ reaction to seeing Ingram eat pie: “Watching young men eat made Chris feel the way he knew Whitman must have felt watching the boys swim in the Hudson.” That said, the novel takes a while to find its feet, as several unnecessary setup chapters weigh down the momentum. But once the story gets going, the reader quickly becomes invested in the mysteries surrounding Chris and his past. The novel’s ending is about as campy and melodramatic as a Tamburlaine show, and readers will likely find that to be a good thing.
A colorful, surprising novel about an over-the-hill artist grappling with times gone by.