Book Reviews

Simple Justice (A Benjamin Justice Mystery 1) by John Morgan Wilson at ReQueered Tales

Genre Gay / Historical / Recent (1990s) / Romance / Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Reviewed by ParisDude on 06-October-2020

Book Blurb

It’s 1994, an election year when violent crime is rampant, voters want action, and politicians smell blood. When a Latino teenager confesses to the murder of a pretty-boy cokehead outside a gay bar in L.A., the cops consider the case closed. But Benjamin Justice, a disgraced former reporter for the Los Angeles Times, sees something in the jailed boy others don’t. His former editor, Harry Brofsky, now toiling at the rival Los Angeles Sun, pries Justice from his alcoholic seclusion to help neophyte reporter Alexandra Templeton dig deeper into the story. But why would a seemingly decent kid confess to a brutal gang initiation killing if he wasn’t guilty? And how can Benjamin Justice possibly be trusted, given his central role in the Pulitzer scandal that destroyed his career? Snaking his way through shadowy neighborhoods and dubious suspects, he’s increasingly haunted by memories of his lover Jacques, whose death from AIDS six years earlier precipitated his fall from grace. As he unravels emotionally, Templeton attempts to solve the riddle of his dark past and ward off another meltdown as they race against a critical deadline to uncover and publish the truth.


Book Review

Early 90s. Benjamin Justice, former prestigious LA Times reporter, has become a virtual outcast of his profession. Six years before, his on-and-off boyfriend Jacques died of AIDS, and he wrote a series of articles that won him the Pulitzer Prize. But he was soon exposed as a fraud because his articles were invented from scratch. What he’s been doing ever since is sit in the lodgings his friends Maurice and Fred provide him for free, get drunk, and wail in remorse and self-pity. Then one day his former boss Harry Brofsky shows up; he’s now working for the much less reputed Sun and wants Benjamin’s help. In fact, Billy Lusk, in his late twenties, handsome and gay stepson of a renowned golf player, has been shot to death on the parking lot of a local gay bar, and a young Mexican-American guy has been arrested for the murder. Harry asks Benjamin to work on the case as a freelance consultant together with the Sun’s new crime reporter Alexandra Templeton, to guide her and to show her the ropes.


As Benjamin owes Harry a favor, he grudgingly accepts. Together with sharp Alex, they dig into the story, check and countercheck the facts, and soon stumble upon several inconsistencies that lead them to interview a whole series of people: the owner of the gay bar as well as his boyfriend, a former football player with a shady history of violence; Billy’s roommate Derek Brunheim, a forty-something, pockmarked, and paunchy drama queen; Billy’s mother, a cold LA socialite; and the presumed murderer’s family. Their research even makes them meet former US Senator Paul Masterman, “a scandal-tainted candidate running for a House seat in Sourthern California’s most influential Congressional district”, as well as his son and daughter-in-law. As they proceed, Benjamin’s past comes back in painful bits and pieces, and he is forced to face his demons if he wants to get to the bottom of Billy Lusk’s death…


Masterfully written, this was an amazing book. First of all, kudos for the main character, whom I liked despite some morally doubtful actions he commits in the story (actions he isn’t proud of, himself, which commended him to me even more). Benjamin is a haunted man with an intriguing past, once upon a time up so high, now down so low; a man with edges, weak spots, ghosts that the author explores with great subtlety, handing out short snippets here and there so that the reader can slowly get to know him better. Benjamin is no pale, lifeless creation, but feels like a man of flesh and blood. The secondary characters are all just as three-dimensional, which makes them intriguing, even those I disliked at a glance. Wilson succeeded in making me “get” them, i.e., making me understand their goals and motivations, their ambitions, and their errors. Nothing (and nobody) is sketched in black and white; there’s color everywhere, shadows and light.


Together with these characters, the author also created a plot that in itself would have drawn me in, no matter what. As it were, the combination of both solid plot and interesting cast made me rush through the book in no time. For once, I had an inkling who the culprit might be quite early into the read (which is usually not the case), but Wilson managed to throw me off the scent midnovel (naughty, naughty!) only to confirm my suspicions toward the end. For those who like their murder mysteries gay, strong and straightforward, well-written and perfectly paced, with characters one can easily relate to, this is a must-read.





DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the author. This book has been provided by ReQueered Tales for the purpose of a review.


Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Novel, 300 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 15-September-2020
Price $5.95 ebook, $16.95 paperback
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