I read mystery from time to time, usually a handful every year. Mystery writers that I’ve loved include Josh Lanyon, PD James and Kate Ross. At its best, the mystery genre can be a fantastic way to peel back the layers so the reader comes to see more and more deeply into the lives of people somehow involved in the murder. One thing I tend to need are strongly written secondary and tertiary characters. Of course it depends on the book, but as the sleuth tries to figure out who did it and why, you want the different options to appear plausible to some degree. You don’t want the author pointing a neon-pink arrow towards the culprit or the reasons why.
I first heard about Joseph Hansen quite some time ago, within the m/m community. I’m pretty sure the first mention came from Josh Lanyon, either in his novel The Hell You Say, or in some kind of blog discussion. But the foreword in Fadeout gives you an idea of how hard Joseph Hansen had to work to get recognition when he was writing—as he must have known—at a really high level.
I don’t review mysteries. My mind tends to latch on to a few details, that are important to me, but don’t create a well-rounded review in the end. But I thought I’d link to interesting posts, since this book has been written up by a number of my favorite reviewers, namely Sunita, Sirius, and Keishon.
Fadeout gives a terrific sense of place. I’ve never been to California at any time, let alone in the 1960s. The scenery description is vivid, as are the details of that era, and it took me right into that world. If nothing else, the amount of cigarettes and drink is quite striking.
There’s a melancholy tone to Fadeout, which absolutely suits a book that features a grieving investigator. Dave Brandstetter’s lover of 22 years, Rod, died of cancer, and Dave is grieving hard. The backstory relationship is poignant, and it’s an interesting counterpoint to the murder mystery Dave eventually solves. There’s bleakness in the book, and kindness as well. I end up worrying about an off-page character, the despised son of a secondary character. I end up worrying for the almost-18-year-old who is infatuated with Dave.
Some of the melancholy I feel about the book is also related to the author himself, who seems to have struggled with his lack of success. (When I read Kate Ross’s books, I also felt sad knowing the author had died young. Not that Hansen was that young…)
As I mentioned there are interesting posts about this book:
- From Teddypig, in 2009, who situates the book within a larger body of gay lit.
Most Gay Lit up to this point would never ever show a main character so romantically conservative, so comfortable with being Gay, so FUCKING NORMAL!
- Sirius at Reviews at Jessewave
I really liked how his character was revealed more and more throughout the investigation, throughout his actions, not just through his thoughts. I liked how we slowly learned how strong he is, how very compassionate he is and I really liked his sense of humor in those few situations when Dave actually showed it to the reader.
- Alan Chin at Gay/Lesbian Fiction Books (2013) situates it within the mystery genre.
Brandstetter was not the first gay sleuth, but he was the first healthy, gay detective that was utterly comfortable with his sexuality. He is as real a person as a novel character can be. The writing and pacing are superb. Hansen has been compared to Hammett, Ross MacDonald, and Chandler, and for good reasons.
- As does Sunita at Dear Author.
These aren’t romances in the genre sense, because the relationship(s) are ongoing across novels and they don’t always end happily. But relationships of all types are at the core of Hansen’s stories as much as the mysteries are. Hansen’s debt to earlier writers from Dashiell Hammett to Raymond Chandler to Ross McDonald will be evident to genre readers, but these books are also original in their own ways, and not just because the narrator and many of the characters are gay. [Comments about the mystery canon are interesting to me, even if I haven’t *cough* read Hammett, Chandler, or McDonald.]
- Keishon at Avid Mystery Reader.
The atmosphere of the novel stood out. Hansen’s writing included descriptions of the furniture, the weather, the people, their clothes, their mannerisms, etc. As for the main character, the two words that pop into mind are mature and credible.
I did go on to read book 2, Death Claims, a strong second installment. I’ll be picking up Troublemaker next.