5 Stars, Joseph Hansen, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Open Road Media, Reviewed by Lisa

Review: The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of by Joseph Hansen

Title: The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of

Author: Joseph Hansen

Publisher: Open Road Media

Pages/Word Count: 181 Pages

At a Glance: I don’t think there are any new ways I can come up with to express how exemplary these books are

Blurb: When Ben Orton’s head is found bludgeoned by a heavy flower pot, the people of La Caleta are stunned—not because their police chief has been murdered, but because no one thought to do it sooner. A bruising, violent man, Ben had a commitment to order that did not always take the law into account. But as insurance investigator Dave Brandstetter is about to find out, the corruption in Ben’s police force did not die with him.

By the time Dave arrives in the fading fishing town, a young activist has already been arrested for the murder. Only Dave seems to care that the evidence against the accused is laughably thin. As the people of La Caleta try their best to thwart his investigation, Dave must do whatever it takes to catch Ben’s killer.

Dividers

Review: Once again, as with Troublemaker, the title of this book has more than one connection to its characters. One of the men everybody was afraid of is dead. The other man everybody is afraid of is the one who will uncover all their secrets, so they have good reason to fear him when he shows up in their sleepy ocean-side town to investigate the death of Ben Orton, the chief of police who was, by his widow and son’s accounts, a fine, upstanding American who was loved and respected all around. If that’s the case, though, why was the man found bludgeoned to death? To find the answer to that question is Dave’s job, which means talking to the people who saw the Ben Orton behind the husband, father, and badge. That’s the man who was cheating on his wife and trying to keep his daughter away from her boyfriend—who happens to be a black man—and not being averse to breaking the law to do it.

In what I can now, with all confidence and enthusiasm, refer to as typical Joseph Hansen style, nothing is what it seems on the surface, as he lays each thread of the mystery out one by one and then begins to cross-stitch them into a pattern of motive, opportunity, and plausibility. As he does so, you begin to see that pattern coming together—the spurned wife, the zealously loyal son, the police officers who don’t hesitate to make Dave’s life difficult, the television anchorwoman, and on through various members of the community—the facts don’t add up to Ben Orton being the paragon of virtue some folks believed him to be. The problem with the truth coming out about the deceased chief of police is a simple one: there are some secrets folks want to remain secret.

Along with racial prejudice, homophobia plays its role in The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of, which leads to Cliff Kerlee’s arrest. His being gay went a long way in them not bothering to pursue a thorough investigation in the case. Cliff was a crusader for a cause, he made an inflammatory comment, and, in doing so, made himself an easy target. One of the astonishing things about these books, having been written in the early 70s, is that the social relevance of the things Hansen wrote about back then are still things that remain socially relevant today. I’m not sure if that’s a testament to the author’s ability to write books that will stand the test of time, or a sad statement that we’re still seeing these issues coming into play in the 21st Century. Whichever it is, at the risk of becoming repetitive, Hansen presents them with admirable skill.

In doing a fantastic job of keeping this series fresh rather than it falling into the trap of each book being a carbon copy of the one before it, Hansen lays further groundwork in Dave Brandstetter as a character. Developments in his personal life—with his father and his lover, Doug, as well as the introduction of a new character, Cecil Harris—the author finally shows readers that Dave is human, susceptible to personal burdens that begin to affect his considerable investigative skills. Yes, Dave makes mistakes in this installment of the series, but rather than it tarnishing his character, it only serves to add dimension to both him and this series. Solving this crime may have come with a price to pay, certainly the truth revealed in this installment took its toll, but for Dave, Ben Orton’s death may have served to set his life on a new course.

I don’t think there are any new ways I can come up with to express how exemplary these books are as forerunners of modern gay fiction, or how groundbreaking they were at the time they were originally published. The books speak well enough for themselves.






You can buy The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of here:

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4.5 Stars, Joseph Hansen, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Open Road Media, Reviewed by Lisa

Review: Troublemaker by Joseph Hansen

Title: Troublemaker

Author: Joseph Hansen

Publisher: Mulholland Books (Orig. Publication – 1975)

Pages/Word Count: 272 Pages

At a Glance: Another great mystery, though doesn’t keep pace with the first two in the series

Blurb: Rick Wendell’s ranch is far from town. A remote, dusty hideaway, its only inhabitants are Rick, his aging mother, and her horses. One night, Rick’s mother returns from the movies to find Rick lying on the floor, stark naked and with a gaping bullet wound in his chest. Standing over him is his lover, a mustachioed hippie, who swears he did not fire the gun that he’s holding. The case seems open-and-shut, but Dave Brandstetter is not satisfied.

An insurance investigator with an unusually keen sense of detection, Dave is openly gay and professionally skeptical. Something about the murder causes him to trust the alleged killer—and seriously doubt Rick’s mother.

Dividers

Review: If ever a book has been more aptly named, Troublemaker is it. Joseph Hansen reveals more than just a murder victim and a killer in this, the third installment in the Dave Brandstetter mystery series. Hansen reveals in no uncertain terms that Dave is not only an unpopular fellow but isn’t averse to stirring the pot to solve a crime, regardless of whom he offends and/or ticks off in the process. Dave isn’t a death claims investigator for Medallion Life to win friends and influence people. He’s a death claims investigator to prevent fraudulent payouts on life insurance policies, and he’s by god going to do everything he can to look beyond the easy answers and dig down to the stinky and sordid secrets always lurking beneath the obvious.

Unlike the previous two books in the series, I must start by saying I didn’t feel Troublemaker flowed as effortlessly. There were several things happening at once in this novel, the first being the murder investigation, obviously. The parallel plotlines running alongside it, however, were of a personal nature, one involving Dave’s relationship with Doug—Doug’s mother is suffering from psychotic episodes during which she hallucinates, which is causing strain on Doug as well as his relationship with Dave. While this serves its purpose—to offer a more domestic interlude, showing a little personal chaos must also fall amidst the professional—I felt it to be a heavy storyline against which to contrast the core plot, especially when added to what Dave is facing with his own father, i.e., a health scare. While all these things may be necessary to future developments in the series, I felt they did bog down the pacing of this installment. And as a side note, there is also what seemed an aimless introduction of a young artist who is bent upon insinuating himself as a third wheel in Dave and Doug’s relationship. While a playful devise used to show that Dave is a one man sort of guy, it was resolved so handily and without incident that it was easy to dismiss.

One of the side stories that did work well is the further examination of Dave’s relationship with his father, Carl. Carl Brandstetter is more accepting of Dave’s sexuality than many sixty-five year old men in the late 1960s may have been, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t averse to hinting that Dave ought to give up the gay lifestyle and settle down with a woman. One of the socially relevant commentaries in Dave and Carl’s relationship—perhaps more significant today, with marriage equality in the fore, is the contrast of Dave’s committed partnership with his deceased lover, Rod, and now the one he’s attempting to build with Doug (read: monogamous), to Carl’s serial bastardizing of the state of holy matrimony. The man’s on his ninth wife, so apply that to the argument that marriage equality will diminish the sanctity of marriage as a whole, and go ahead and have a bit of a chuckle at the irony of Hansen’s prescience.

As is typical of this series, the investigation of the death of Rick Wendell, owner of the gay bar The Hang Ten, seems cut and dried when the author introduces the facts. But, where Dave goes, things are never as they appear on the surface. With Larry Johns imprisoned–the man deemed guilty because every shred of evidence, save for one very important piece, seems to point directly at him—it wouldn’t seem Dave should have much to do, but where there is greed, jealousy, and the human condition involved, it’s a guarantee that, as Mr. Wilde once wrote, “The truth is rarely pure and ever simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!”

Dave proceeds through the investigation of Wendell’s murder in his trademark style, with a bulldog tenacity and “screw you if you don’t like it” attitude. While you might think by this point that reading three consecutive mysteries in a single series would begin to weigh tedious, not to mention become repetitious, I have to say that couldn’t be less the case. Hansen is a master craftsman with a gift for turning a phrase and painting a picture with words: “Backgrounding him, the Pacific wrote white scribbles to itself on blue slate under a wide smile of sky. The surf lipped pale sand beyond a stagger of red dune fence.”

And that is the way Hansen sets a mood.






You can buy Troublemaker here:

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4 Stars, Gordon Merrick, Historical Romance, Literary Fiction, Open Road Media, Reviewed by Lisa

Review: The Lord Won’t Mind by Gordon Merrick

Title: The Lord Won’t Mind

Author: Gordon Merrick

Publisher: Open Road Media

Pages/Word Count: 256 Pages

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb: Charlie Mills always played the role of the good grandson, and his grandmother rewarded him for it handsomely in the form of all the gifts, money, and attention a boy could want. Entering college in the late 1930s, Charlie just has to keep doing what his grandmother expects of him in order to continue to receive her gifts. He has to find a nice girl, get married, and have a few kids. Then one summer, he meets Peter Martin. Continue reading

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4 Stars, Genre Romance, Literary Fiction, Open Road Media, Reviewed by Lisa, William J. Mann

Review: The Men From the Boys by William J. Mann

Title: The Men From the Boys

Author: William J. Mann

Publisher: Open Road Media

Pages/Word Count: 352 Pages

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb: This stunning slice of gay life at the turn of the millennium introduces thirtysomething Jeff O’Brien. After six years, his lover, Lloyd, has just announced that the passion between them has died. Terrified of ending up alone, Jeff turns his eye toward other men. But the anonymous, impersonal encounters leave him feeling sordid and used. In search of love during this “last summer in which I am to be young,” he finds romance with a beautiful houseboy named Eduardo. At twenty-two, Eduardo is the same age Jeff was when he began a relationship with the older David Javitz, a leading activist now gravely ill with AIDS. But David became more than a lover to Jeff, who wasn’t yet out of the closet. He was his mentor and cherished friend. Continue reading

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