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Mystery Fiction: Gay Male  
 
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Finally, in the area of setting, Hansen equals if not surpasses his master Macdonald in capturing the feel of Los Angeles and the small towns and cities up and down the southern California coast. He obviously realizes that many people read mystery fiction primarily for its sense of place and people, and his descriptions of both are masterful.

The critical and commercial success of Hansen's Brandstetter novels paved the way for mainstream gay-positive detective fiction, and in the last two decades of the twentieth century several single novels and series of novels that feature gay males as detectives have been issued by major publishers. Most of the series fail to measure up to the high standard of the Hansen novels, but many provide considerable entertainment, and one--by Michael Nava--is a major achievement, consisting of seven mysteries, the last five of which are in fact excellent novels regardless of genre.

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Remnants of Exploitation: Tony Fennelly and Stan Cutler

Unfortunately, during the 1980s and 1990s, two series were written by authors largely unsympathetic to gays and ignorant of their complexities and concerns. The first of these, the most exploitative gay detective fiction since Baxt's Pharoah Love trilogy, is authored by a woman, the Matt Sinclair mysteries by Tony Fennelly: The Glory Hole Murders (1985) and The Closet Hanging (1987)--reissued together as Murder with a Twist in 1991--and Kiss Yourself Goodbye (1989).

Set in New Orleans, these novels offer little more than bitchily camp tours of the sleazier elements of the gay worlds of the French Quarter and the Creole haut monde. Most of the situations in the novels are unbelievable, and most of the characters--including Sinclair himself--are unsympathetic.

The second exploitative series is by television writer and producer Stan Cutler: Best Performance by a Patsy (1991), The Face on the Cutting Room Floor (1991), Shot on Location (1993), and Rough Cut (1994). These novels team Rayford Goodman, a fifty-something macho private eye, with Mark Bradley, a thirty-something gay writer of celebrity biographies, and are set in the world of television and moviemaking.

Although the pacing is fast and the writing workmanlike, the plots are reminiscent of National Inquirer exposés, and neither of the detectives is likable or sympathetic. Goodman is crude and homophobic; Bradley is superficial in the extreme, concerned primarily with expensive clothes and automobiles. Neither is thoughtful enough to raise the series above the level of pulp fiction.

The Breezy Mysteries of Nathan Aldyne

A somewhat sensationalistic series of four novels was published in the 1980s under the name of Nathan Aldyne, the joint pseudonym of Michael McDowell and Dennis Schuetz: Vermilion (1980), Cobalt (1982), Slate (1984), and Canary (1986). Set in Boston and Provincetown, they feature as amateur detectives Daniel Valentine, a gay social worker turned bartender, and his straight female best friend Clarisse Lovelace, who moves from working in a real estate office to attending law school.

Located entirely within the milieus of gay bars and summer resorts, they deal with the murders of gay men against backdrops of hustling, drug dealing, and sadomasochistic activities. The two main characters are likable and sympathetic and the books witty and breezy, but they lack any real depth and one gets the impression that they were written primarily to titillate readers with the promiscuous exploits of the pre-AIDS gay bar scene.

Moreover, as the series progresses, the books become more and more focused on Clarisse, who is undoubtedly a colorful character, and the less-interesting Valentine fades into the background. Although a fifth novel was promised in the late 1980s, it failed to appear, the authors realizing that their characters and situations were inappropriate in a milieu ravaged by AIDS.

The Politically Aware Mysteries of Richard Stevenson

A much better and more politically aware series was begun about the same time by Richard Lipez writing as Richard Stevenson: Death Trick (1981), On the Other Hand, Death (1984), Ice Blues (1986), Third Man Out (1992), Shock to the System (1995), Chain of Fools (1996), Strachey's Folly (1998), Tongue Tied (2003), Death Vows (2008), The 38 Million Dollar Smile (2009), and Red White Black and Blue (2011).

Although it begins with some of the campiness, wit, and exploitation that mark the Aldyne novels, the Stevenson series is ultimately more serious and more satisfying. Set in Albany, New York, it centers around Don Strachey, a gay private detective approaching middle age, and Timothy Callahan, his Jesuit-educated lover who works in an office of the state government.

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