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literature

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Mystery Fiction: Gay Male  
 
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In the first novel, he is drawn into detecting when he is suspected of killing a young gay park ranger; in the second, he agrees to help the former receptionist at his salon when she is accused of poisoning her boyfriend. The other novels explore the worlds of ballet, opera, the Key West tourist scene, and urban gentrification.

Frustrated in love but always plucky, Stan is the sassiest protagonist in gay detective fiction, and much of the appeal of these novels is the sexually tense relationship between Stan and his would-be nemesis, the presumably straight and definitely handsome Boston homicide detective Vito Branco. Unfortunately, however, the characters and situations grow less interesting as the series progresses.

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The Retrogressive Camp of Fred Hunter

Campy to a retrogressive extreme are the Alex Reynolds novels by Fred Hunter: Government Gay (1997), Federal Fag (1998), Capital Queers (1999), National Nancies (2000), and The Chicken Asylum (2001).

Reynolds, a work-at-home commercial artist; his "husband" Peter Livesay, a clerk in an exclusive men's store; and his mother Jean, an extravagant and flirtatious British matron possessed of a razor-sharp mind, live comfortably together in a Chicago townhouse. Coerced into working for the CIA, they solve mysteries connected to spying and political intrigue.

The premise is farfetched and the writing too often precious. Peter and Jean are likable characters, but Alex, who narrates the books, seems stuck in a pre-Stonewall campiness that can be amusing in small doses but does not wear well through an entire novel.

Three Series Set in the World of Journalism

Three series that begin in the 1990s are set in the world of journalism--two in print and the other in television. Two deal not only with solving crimes but with their protagonists' midlife coming out and acceptance of their homosexuality; the third is more complex.

Michael Craft's Mark Manning Series

The Mark Manning series by Michael Craft consists of seven novels: Flight Dreams (1997), Eye Contact (1998), Body Language (1999), Name Games (2000), Boy Toy (2001), Hot Spot (2002), and Bitch Slap (2004).

In the first two, Manning is an investigative reporter for a Chicago paper; in the third, he buys a newspaper in his Wisconsin hometown and becomes its publisher. His lover Neil Waite is an Arizona architect who brings Manning out of his closet and eventually relocates twice to be with him.

The situations in the first two novels are farfetched, and the novels themselves are narrated in the present tense, resulting in an annoying breathlessness. When Mark moves to Wisconsin, however, Craft finds a more satisfying milieu and voice, locating his mysteries in family secrets and narrating them more conventionally in the past tense. Moreover, the interest in the lovers deepens as they take on the responsibility of rearing a teenager.

Craft's more recent Claire Gray series, set in Palm Springs, includes only incidental gay characters.

R. D. Zimmerman's Todd Mills Series

The second series set in the world of journalism is by R. D. Zimmerman: Closet (1995, Lambda Award winner), Tribe (1996), Hostage (1997), Outburst (1998), and Innuendo (1999). The protagonist, Todd Mills, is an Emmy-winning investigative reporter at a Minneapolis television station. Deeply closeted as the series begins, he is publicly outed by the murder of his lover, a crime in which he is the chief suspect. He spars with homicide investigator Steve Rawlins, who is himself gay, and together they solve the mystery and take the first steps toward becoming lovers.

The other novels are set against the background of hypocritical religious cults, politics, and show business. The novels are well plotted, fast paced, and well written, and their Minneapolis setting is masterfully exploited.

John Morgan Wilson's Benjamin Justice Series

The most ambitious of the three series featuring journalists is by John Morgan Wilson: Simple Justice (1996), Revision of Justice (1997), Justice at Risk (1999), The Limits of Justice (2000), Blind Eye (2003), Moth and Flame (2004), Rhapsody in Blood (2006), and Spider Season (2008). Its protagonist is Benjamin Justice, a Los Angeles newspaper reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles on AIDS but was fired and forced to relinquish the award when it was discovered that he had faked interviews. Deeply despondent over the loss of his job and the death of his lover from AIDS, Justice is gradually pushed back into life by his close neighbors, an elderly gay couple, and two of his newspaper friends who refused to desert him.

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