Thursday, December 6, 2012

Seminal Murder by Mary Vermillion

Book:  Seminal Murder
Author:  Mary Vermillion
Publisher:  Regal Crest Enterprises

There were a few times over the years when the tick tock of my biological clock sounded like a turn signal on steroids.  I’d go online and look at pictures of babies and toddlers looking for forever homes, maybe research what it took to become a foster parent, talk to folks in the neighborhood who had adopted kids, and evaluate my bank account to see if it was deep and wide enough to bring a Salem Junior into my life.

Then I’d go to Friends of Homeless Animals and adopt a dog.

Other times, when the hands of my biological clock would start spinning like Regan MacNeil’s head, I’d go online and look at bios of baby daddies, research local in vitro clinics, talk to friends and coworkers about their successes and failures with IVF, and evaluate my bank account to see if it was deep and wide enough to bring a mini-me into the world.

And then I’d go to Friends of Homeless Animals and adopt another dog.

Then, when I hit my mid-forties, and started to detect the not-so-subtle signs that my once plump and fertile eggs were drying up faster than a week old slice of birthday cake left uncovered in the refrigerator, I evaluated my list of smart, studly, and sane male friends to determine if their collective gene pool was deep and wide enough to sacrifice my Tovolo stainless steel turkey baster. 

That was when a post-menopausal friend gave me a Siberian Husky puppy.

While the urge isn’t as strong or frequent as it used to be, the topic of children is one of those required checklist items that has to be addressed when any two lesbians meet, fall in love, and decide to run away to Vermont and elope.

Enter my soul mate and wife, Ann McMan, stage left.

Ann is a few years older than me, and safely past the point of childbirth.  I’m still technically able, but freely admit that at this stage in life, the mere thought of childbirth is enough to make my ovaries strike faster than unionized bakers at a Twinkie plant.  Of course, there’s always the option of adoption—I’ve always personally struggled with the idea of creating a new life when there were already so many who simply needed a home—but even under the best of circumstances, that isn’t a quick or guaranteed process, especially in North Carolina.

So, Ann and I quickly, easily, and unanimously agreed that four dogs and two cats was the perfect family dynamic for us.

However, I want to point out that if I want something Ann believes I don’t need, I start emailing her pictures of husky puppies that need a forever home.  Some might call it manipulative, but it works for us—I usually get what I want, and she doesn’t have to tell her publisher that the husky ate her (a) royalty check, (b) manuscript, (c) contract, or (d) all of the above.  


Mary Vermillion takes on a full gamut of lesbian reproductive issues in her third Mara Gilgannon novel, Seminal Murder.  Running late to a scheduled interview with friend and fertility specialist, Dr. Grace Everest, Mara and her former lover, Anne, stumble onto a grisly murder scene.  The women don’t know who murdered the good doctor, but suspect it has everything to do with the hoard of right-wing conservative Christians protesting both the sperm bank and the radio station where Mara works.  Mara, a reluctant amateur sleuth, wants nothing to do with investigating the murder of her friend, but can’t seem to stop asking questions and following up hunches and leads.  Armed with her flamboyant gay husband, a feisty 15-year old looking for her biological father, and a long list of suspects, Mara follows lead after lead, and not only uncovers the big bad who killed her friend, but also learns why so many of her friends haven’t been able to conceive.  All the while Mara juggles a groundswell of emotions as she copes with conflicting feelings related to her past and present girlfriends, and comes to terms with the fact that maybe, just maybe, she might actually make a good parent.

When I first heard Mary Vermillion read from Seminal Murder at the 2012 GCLS Convention, I scratched my head as I contemplated the chutzpah it takes for an author writing lesbian fiction to build a novel around semen, the one substance guaranteed to make any and every lesbian queasy.  Still, I was intrigued to see what she could do with the storyline, and where she would take her irrepressible sleuth, Mara Gilgannon. 

Ms. Vermillion’s cast of characters is a mixed bag, literally and metaphorically.  Mara is multi-dimensional, exhibiting equal parts wit, intellect, empathy, disbelief, and disassociation. Her gay housemate and best friend, Vince, fills the role of compassionate narcissist with an appropriate level of flash, flair, and refined competence.  Zoey, the headstrong and street-smart adoptee carves out a solid place in future Mara Gilgannon novels with her ability to out think and out smart every adult in the book. And the late Dr. Grace Everest, whose only appearance is as a corpse, is given a strong voice as Mara’s unsuspecting Zen Master.  The weakest characters in the book were, oddly, the ex-girlfriend, Anne, who appeared to be so focused on her own trials that she took on a ghost-like quality; and the current girlfriend, Bridget, who seemed entirely too focused on her job and her basketball players, the latter in an almost creepy way.  Still, it should be noted that Seminal Murder is a mystery/adventure, not a romance, so the hands-off approach to the women in Mara’s life is plausible and doesn’t take away from the true focus of the story.

Prior to reading Seminal Murder, I had not read the two earlier Mara Gilgannon books, the Lambda nominated Death by Discount or Murder by Mascot.  While both stories were briefly rehashed early on in this third installment, I found myself struggling a bit to figure out who each of the recurring characters really were, what their relationships were, and why they were significant.  And, while it took a handful of chapters to get comfortable and ease into the flow, I found that once I did, the pace of the story picked up and took off to satisfying heights. 

Mara Gilgannon is everywoman—she’s not rich, she's not gorgeous or handsome or androgynous, and she doesn’t have a job that opens up all the right doors at all the right times.  She feels sorry for herself, wants to be alone sometimes, and doesn’t see every clue in front of her.  Still, she has dogged determination, is loyal to the people she loves, and dreams about a young Jodie Foster.  I found myself liking her more and more as I read, and ultimately wanting to pick up the two earlier books to learn about how she got to where she is.  Seminal Murder is a smart and fun little mystery, and a quick read at 175 pages.  If you like quirky little whodunits, it’s worth a read. 

Because Mary Vermillion was able to credibly pull off “lesbian” and “sperm” in the same story, I’m going to sidestep the sketchy puns, and simply give Seminal Murder a solid 4.9 out of 6.0 on the Rainbow Scale.