Reviews: The Man Who Turned Both Cheeks
Second book in the Shad series by Gillian Royes
Jamaica is the picturesque background for this explosive novel about love, fear, and intolerance, the second in Gillian Royes’s mystery series featuring charming and charismatic bartender-turned-detective Shad.
Hopes for the impoverished village of Largo Bay come alive with the arrival of Joseph, estranged son of bar owner Eric. Janna, who has returned to the island, falls for Joseph’s good looks and charm, but she isn’t the only one with an eye for this mysterious man.
As questions about Joseph’s sexuality arise, Shad struggles with protecting the survival of his beloved birthplace amidst the deeply ingrained culture of intolerance that surrounds him. Questions arise about what it means to be a man and a father, and Shad feels pressure to defend what he knows is right.
As in the acclaimed The Goat Woman of Largo Bay, the first book in this series, Gillian Royes paints an indelible picture of a beautiful land where religion is strong but life is cheap, and explores what happens when a village must confront its own darkness or lose a bright future.
Royes’s strong sequel to her fiction debut, 2011’s The Goat Woman of Largo Bay, deepens the character of Shad Myers, bartender by trade, investigator by vocation, and unofficial sheriff of the small Jamaican village of Largo Bay. Shad’s employer, Eric Keller, plans to build a new hotel and wants Shad to be a partner. Eric’s grown son, Joseph, is coming to Jamaica from the U.S. to write the business proposal, but Joseph’s reputation as a “batty boy” (e.g., a homosexual) from a visit 11 years earlier is still vivid. Shad attempts to halt the rumors, because in Jamaica to be gay is “to court death.” A cast of fully realized characters provide a colorful spectrum of relationships, while an undercurrent of suspicion and hostility threatens to derail the hotel that would mean so much to the village. Shad’s idea of a hero (“he don’t pull people down—he lifts them up”) is demonstrated in many ways, small and large, in this sensitive, thought-provoking novel."
Royes is brilliant in bringing Jamaican sun and sea, people and places to life. She’s equally adept with characters: Joseph, proud, uncertain, angry with his neglectful father; Janna, on the cusp of true womanhood, spoiled, lacking direction; Eric, burned out, lonely, frustrated; Shad, ambitious, weighted down with responsibilities; Winston, a fatherless boy blossoming with Shad’s help; and Pastor McClelen, the Typhoid Mary infecting Largo with homophobia.
Bartender Shad Myers doesn't just listen to the troubles that tourists and locals bring into his thatch-roofed bar — he sets out to fix them himself, no matter the risk.
The troubles that find Shad in Gillian Royes' novel The Man Who Turned Both Cheeks seem better suited to pastors and law enforcement authorities. Plans to develop a new beachfront hotel in his tiny Largo Bay, a village on Jamaica's northern shore, get muddled in a love triangle that feeds long-simmering bigotry toward gay people.
But Largo Bay is too small to have its own police force, and the pastor's morals are questionable, so it's up to the bartender to hunt down the mysterious group whose increasingly violent tactics threaten to derail the hotel project, along with Shad's dreams for his hurricane-stricken hometown.
The Man Who Turned Both Cheeks is Royes' second crime drama starring Shad. Since Shad is only an "unofficial sheriff," as he thinks of himself, Royes is freed from the police procedural formulas that can weigh down some mystery novels. Instead, the Jamaica-born writer explores Shad's sense of hustle — the drive required to do more than just get by in an impoverished community dependent on the Caribbean island's tourist economy.
Royes' Jamaica is lush, stormy and stronger than the rum punch cocktails that Shad pours over ice.