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Mystery Fiction: Gay Male  
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The plot of the first novel is sensational and its characters mostly derivative. With the award-winning Echoes, however, Lennon proves that he can create complex characters and moving situations. Unfortunately, the novels that follow Echoes lack its clear focus and tight construction. Like Stephen Stanley, Lennon badly needs a good editor.

Independent Mystery Novels

Not all gay mysteries are parts of series, of course, and there have been several good independent novels published in the last thirty years. Notable among them are three non-Brandstetter mysteries by Joseph Hansen: Known Homosexual (published under the pseudonym James Colton in 1968, reissued as Stranger to Himself in 1977, and reprinted under Hansen's name in 1984 as Pretty Boy Dead), Backtrack (1982), and Steps Going Down (1985).

Three other mysteries well worth reading are Richard Hall's Butterscotch Prince (1975, revised 1983), Stephen Lewis's Cowboy Blues (1985), and Jack Ricardo's The Night G.A.A. Died (1992). Hall's novel, set in New York, has its protagonist coming to terms with his own gayness as he pursues the killer of his lover; it may be considered the first gay liberationist mystery novel.

Ricardo's novel also deals with the early struggle of the liberation movement heralded by Stonewall: Archie Cain, a private detective who was forced out of the New York Police Department when he openly declared his gayness, investigates the murder of an officer of the Gay Activists Alliance in 1971.

Lewis's novel is set in Los Angeles and features an appealing gay private detective, Jake Lieberman, who investigates the disappearance of a gay rodeo performer and would-be country singer. It was obviously intended as the first of a series, which unfortunately has failed to materialize.

Also worth mentioning are the quasi-autobiographical novels of Samuel Steward featuring himself, Gertrude Stein, and Alice B. Toklas as detectives: Murder Is Murder Is Murder (1985) and The Caravaggio Shawl (1989).

Although the detective of Steven Saylor's meticulously researched and strongly written series set in ancient Rome is not gay, the books include a number of sympathetic gay characters.

Also of interest are Robert Bentley's Here There Be Dragons (1972), an excellent espionage thriller; Terry Miller's Standing By (1984), a mystery set in the New York theater world; and Russell A. Brown's Sherlock Holmes and the Mysterious Friend of Oscar Wilde (1988), a clever pastiche set in Victorian London.

Finally, Michael Nava has edited a fine collection of gay mystery short stories, Finale (1989).


The mystery novel is a logical and appropriate vehicle for gay writers, especially in the United States. Beginning with the hard-boiled school in the 1920s, its politics have often been radical and it has been a mirror of social change. It has a tradition of pitting the outlaw against the establishment and, eventually, of redefining society in such a way that the outsider can find a useful and secure place within it.

The gay mystery novel, like its straight counterpart, is multifaceted, ranging from often bumbling amateur sleuthing to shrewdly observed police procedurals, from light escapism to the serious study of character. But in all of its manifestations, it serves as an important step toward the integration of gays into the American social fabric as human beings worthy of interest, compassion, and respect.

Ted-Larry Pebworth

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literature >> Overview:  Mystery Fiction: Lesbian

Although most lesbian mystery fiction reflects a political stance, the most effective lesbian crime novels have been those that have most enthusiastically embraced the need to entertain the reader.

literature >> Auden, W. H.

One of the most accomplished poets of the twentieth century, W. H. Auden found that his gayness led him to new insights into the universal impulse to love and enlarged his understanding of all kinds of relationships.

literature >> Bidulka, Anthony

Canadian novelist Anthony Bidulka, author of the Russell Quant detective series, creates mysteries that skirt the dark side of detective fiction through humor and emotional buoyancy.

literature >> Dante Alighieri

In the Divine Comedy Dante treats male homosexuality first as violence against God and then more sympathetically as merely one of the kinds of love.

social sciences >> Gay Activists Alliance

An important organization of the early post-Stonewall era, the Gay Activists Alliance, which flourished from 1969 to 1974, strove to give gay men and lesbians visibility in American politics.

literature >> Hall, Richard

In his novels and short stories, plays, and critical writings, Richard Hall focused almost exclusively on issues of gay identity and community.

literature >> Hansen, Joseph

Best known as the author of the Dave Brandstetter mystery series, Hansen also published a considerable body of nonmystery fiction and poetry, most of it dominated by homosexual characters and themes.

literature >> Highsmith, Patricia

Acclaimed mystery writer Patricia Highsmith is the author of one explicitly lesbian novel, as well as the popular series featuring the amoral bisexual Tom Ripley.

literature >> Nava, Michael

Mystery writer Michael Nava has increasingly been recognized as an important novelist whose mature work transcends the limited expectations of a popular and highly specialized genre.

literature >> Rice, Christopher

Christopher Rice, the author of five popular, gay-themed suspense thrillers, has also been active in supporting glbtq causes, especially those affecting glbtq youth.

literature >> Saylor, Steven

Now best known for his highly successful mystery novels set in ancient Rome, Steven Saylor began his writing career by publishing erotica under the pen-name Aaron Travis.

literature >> Stein, Gertrude

In addition to becoming--with Alice B. Toklas--half of an iconic lesbian couple, Gertrude Stein was an important innovator and transformer of the English language.

literature >> Vidal, Gore

The multifaceted Gore Vidal is important in the gay literary heritage because of the straightforwardness with which he pursued gay themes and included gay characters in his work.

literature >> Wilson, John Morgan

John Morgan Wilson is best known today as the author of a gay male mystery series featuring a flawed and often exasperating amateur detective named Benjamin Justice.


Baird, Newton. "Joseph Hansen." Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers. John M. Reilly, ed. 2nd ed. New York: St. Martin's, 1985. 419-421.

Geherin, David. "Dave Brandstetter." The American Private Eye. New York: Ungar, 1985. 176-183.

Gunn, Drewey Wayne. The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film: A History and Annotated Bibliography. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2005.

Hansen, Joseph. "Matters Grave and Gay." Colloquium on Crime. Robin W. Winks, ed. New York: Scribner's, 1986. 111-126.

Hastings, Solomon. "Homosexuals in the Mystery: Victims or Victimizers." Murder Ink. Dilys Winn, ed. New York: Workman, 1977. 494-495.

Jones, James W. "Joseph Hansen." Contemporary Gay American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Emmanuel S. Nelson, ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1993. 189-196.

Klawitter, George. "Michael Nava." Contemporary Gay American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Emmanuel S. Nelson, ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1993. 291-297.

Slide, Anthony. Gay and Lesbian Characters and Themes in Mystery Novels: A Critical Guide to Over 500 Works in English. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1993.


    Citation Information
    Author: Pebworth, Ted-Larry  
    Entry Title: Mystery Fiction: Gay Male  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated April 29, 2012  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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