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.
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: