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Reviews of Reunion at the Wetside
Alec Clayton who wrote the very funny The Backside of Nowhere is back with a new book, Reunion at the Westside, a murder mystery and a love story. It all begins at Barney's Pub in Washington State when Alex Martin reunites with Jim Bright. Jim is a right-wing Republican while Alex is a left wing Democrat and they had been friends some fifty years earlier. One would think that these two would have no future together but despite their political affiliations, they fall in love. Just about the same time a string of murders began and former performers at Barney's (drag queens) were being picked off.

Clayton draws us into the book immediately with a mooning in a courtroom and it gets wilder as the story continues. With an epic cast of characters who come and go, this tale of romance between two elderly lovers is one of the most fun reads I have had in a long time. I laughed through "Backside" and was not expecting to have a repeat occasion to do so but I was wrong. Clayton uses his wit to give us, of all things, a murder mystery and it is replete with twists and turns as well as romantic interludes. There are subplots and more subplots in this amazing novel.

Jim thinks he knows who is responsible for the killings and the only thing that might hamper him in catching him is that he might be killed first. We see that the past is not easily forgotten in this novel because it rears itself again. In such a preposterous set-up, one would think that this novel is a bit "far-out" but the opposite is true. Clayton gives us characters that he has drawn with skill and I found myself rooting for our heroes while trying out how to figure out who committed the murders. This is a fun read that is skillfully written and wonderfully related and just the perfect book for one of these cool autumn nights. - Amos Lassen, Reviews by Amos Lassen
"The Wetside" is what Washington-states call the part of the state west of the Cascades. It's also the name of a fictional town and the iconic bar of that town in Alec Clayton's new mystery novel, Reunion at the Wetside. There's a series of killings which the two main protagonists gradually realize are the work of a serial murderer. Sixtyish Alex Martin meets again and falls in love with her sixtyish long-lost school chum (and sometimes antagonist) Jim Bright, the former holder of the state record for the mile. She would be considered left of center, and he's a (libertarian) Republican.

But before you start making assumptions, you should know that there has been a regular drag queen show at The Wetside bar ever since the sixties, one of the bar's most popular features, and that the serial killing victims have all been female impersonators who have appeared in the show, and that Republican Jim Bright was one of the stars of that show when he was young, still legendary after all these years.

And that he may be the intended next victim.

This is a more complex and more satisfying account of humans involved in a murder mystery than you may be accustomed to. The story turns out to be a history of the town. The neighbors, the kids that Alex and Jim played among, the crazy affairs, the man with two wives, the cops--it all percolates and simmers. There are reveals you never see coming, but it's fair to say you will applaud the unveiling of the culprit, and you will not be surprised but the ending won't be anti-climactic.

That's because this is a mystery with a difference. These are real people with real lives, not the cardboard cliches of most mystery fiction. No stereotypes allowed. Jim may have been a highly successful drag queen, but he's all male. And so it goes.

In retrospect, the murders pretty obviously grow out of the vindictiveness of some, the confusion of others, the mistaken assumptions of the times, and more. That's where the satisfaction of the book comes from. It isn't the satisfaction of the loud click of an empty mechanism. It's the double satisfaction of reading a full-blooded mystery and a true account of human nature at the same time.

Highly recommended. - Jack Butler, "hontonoshijin" (Eureka, CA), author of Living in Little Rock With Miss Little Rock and Jujitsu for Christ,
Now in her sixties, Alex Martin has the astonishing luck of running into her teenage crush--in a gay bar. (The description of their reunion is one of the best set pieces in the book.) Fortunately for Alex, Jim Bright turns out to be straight, unmarried, and gay-friendly--but he has a secret. And it's not that he's a diehard Republican ready to challenge anything a leftwing activist like Alex might have to say.

Alec Clayton's latest effort invites a few comparisons to his previous novel, The Backside of Nowhere. Although the setting has changed (from Mississippi to Washington State), both stories feature a couple that reunites, rekindles a romance, and looks back with both nostalgia and mortification to their high school days. In the first, a cataclysm brings things to a head; in Reunion at the Wetside, there's a serial killer on the loose.

But where the narrative of the masterfully told "Backside" was focused and its characters were larger than life, "Reunion" seems scattered and its cast is a bit far-flung and sometimes indistinguishable. Part of the problem is the book's very structure; the faux newspaper clippings, informally chatty blog posts (with comments), and similar interpolations give the entire work a scrapbook feel, like a high school yearbook in which the memories and the jokes mean more to the participants than to the observers. In addition, there is a stridency here that is often misplaced; the stultifying political arguments over the 2008 election, while somewhat (and sadly) realistic, are overdone, and the descriptive homilies on LGBT issues and history, meant to be edifying and supportive, seem oddly defensive and discursive and resemble so much preaching to the choir.

These shortcomings and asides, however, are occasional distractions rather than essential elements of the fiction. There's far more to this book than high school memories and political arguments, and ultimately Alex and Jim--along with their unlikely (but wholly believable) adventures and romance--make up the core that holds this book together. - D. Cloyce Smith (Brooklyn, NY),
Sexagenarians and Murder. Alec Clayton's fifth novel returns the action to Western Washington State, where two former high school classmates now in their late 60s meet up again and kindle a long-put-off relationship. The kicker here is that Alex (a woman, although it's interesting that she has a gender-neutral name) is a leftwing Democrat and Jim more of a Libertarian/McCain supporting conservative - who also happens to be a former drag queen who still enjoys wearing women's clothes. There's also a murder mystery revolving around the killing of other former drag queens who participated in a May Day riot at Barney's Pub (one of the local gay watering holes) back in 1970, but the mystery subplot is incidental to the backstory of the interlocking relationships between the large cast of characters. That cast can be a bit problematic at times, as many individuals appear to have no other reason to exist than to offer a bit more local color or give Clayton the chance to tell a funny story. The mystery really doesn't kick in until the final third of the novel, but that doesn't matter, as the novel's central focus is actually on how individuals discover their true selves and comes to accept and often celebrate their places in the community. An enjoyable read overall and probably fairly educational for those unfamiliar with transvestism, transexual identity, and the world of the cross-dressser. - Anthony J. Adam (Houston, TX),
Watch out! Get slippery at the Wetside! Gotta say this: I went right to this book first thing in the morning to read more of the story, and then I went right to it when I got home from work to read more. The writer is clever and cutting-edge in tone, and the characters kept me hungry for their lives. I'd read one of Clayton's previous books, The Backside of Nowhere, and I loved it. Same thing. Had to to get to the book, had to read it until I devoured it. Clayton's novels are quirky and sharp, and the line of action within in them is ready for the Shooting Script. I love reading novels set in my home region, in the Pacific Northwest where I now live-- especially when the story beats with a heart that reach into outer-space where random chunks of happenstance fly by at close range. That is what happens with this great stuff. - Holly Hunt  (Vancouver, WA),
I will preface my remarks by saying it is very rare indeed for me to rate a novel with five stars. James Lee Burke ... yes, most of the time. I took this book to Puerto Vallarta thinking it would help kill the time for that long flight. I became so absorbed with the characters (and trust me, there are a lot of them!) and where the plot was going ... before I knew it, I was there. This a good read and one of the most engaging and enjoyable novels I have read this year. I strongly recommend this novel. You will have a lot of fun and will thoroughly the enjoy the surprise ending. - James T. Patrick "the quiet man" (Olympia, Washington),
Reunion at the Wetside is an interesting plunge into not only murder mysteries, but also gay murder mysteries (if there isn't such a sub-genre -- there should be!) The story itself is a hoot, and Clayton brings a variety of characters to life with a lot of verve, humor, and personal insight.

I found the mystery part of this novel intriguing, and the idea that someone would specifically target drag queens was fascinating. I also really enjoyed the way that Clayton made wry observations about characters, time, and how life changes people.

I was less entranced with the way that Clayton moves blithely in and out of character's heads, losing me a few times with his POV shifts. Clayton can be confusing, but he's often worth it.

Overall, a solid effort from Clayton -- and his 5th novel to boot! - Ned Hayes (Olympia, WA), author of Couer d'Alene Waters and Sinful Folk,
I think I was a member of that else would I know the characters so well? That's how it is with Clayton's books. He develops the characters so well that you feel you know them. I have read, and enjoyed, all his books but this one strikes a chord that feels almost personal....I'm betting you'll feel the same after you've read it. - Van B. Cook  (Texas),
This is the first Alec Clayton book that I have read, but certainly won't be the last. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I bought the book because I had known Alec many years ago in Mississippi. I had no idea that he was so talented. Now I can't get them fast enough.

Overall, a solid effort from Clayton -- and his 5th novel to boot! - Sandy D,
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