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Mystery Fiction: Gay Male  
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The mysteries in this series are all in some way gay-related. Their subjects range from arson in a crowded gay bar through corrosive homophobia and blackmail to jealousy and violence by self-loathing closeted gays. The characters are well drawn and the novels are adroitly plotted and compellingly written.

Some readers of the Hardesty series have complained that what started out as a gay version of hard-boiled detective fiction ultimately morphs into an overly conventional romance that mirrors too closely a heterosexual model. However, most readers will find such a view itself too prescriptive and not altogether accurate. The union of Hardesty and Quinlan, while tender, is neither saccharine nor imitative of heterosexual unions. It is also leavened with the wit and humor that have been the saving grace of many gay men.

Grey's more recent "John Series" features Eliot Smith as an amateur detective and consists so far of two novels: His Name is John (2008) and Aaron's Wait (2009).

In the first novel, Smith, a Chicago real estate developer, wakes up in a hospital emergency room after a head injury and finds the man next to him has died. The dead man has no identification on him and is destined to be listed as a John Doe and buried in a potter's field. The ghost of this John Doe, who cannot remember who he is, appears to Smith periodically in dreams and visions and asks for help in determining his identity and finding his killer. In the second novel, the ghost assists Smith in solving another mystery.

Fans of the paranormal may find this new series satisfying; others will find it less absorbing than Grey's Hardesty series.

Greg Herren's Crescent City Crimes

New Orleans resident and Lambda Award-winner Greg Herren is almost as prolific as Dorien Grey, and he also has two gay mystery series. The first stars private investigator Chanse MacLeod; the second features Scotty Bradley, a go-go boy who in the course of the series becomes a private investigator. Both series are set in New Orleans, and, as the titles of the individual novels emphasize, the city itself is an important character in all of them.

The Chanse MacLeod series consists so far of six novels: Murder in the Rue Dauphine (2002), Murder in the Rue St. Ann (2004), Murder in the Rue Chartres (2007, Lambda Award), Murder in the Rue Ursulines (2008), Murder in the Garden District (2009), and Murder in the Irish Channel (2011).

MacLeod narrates the novels. He describes himself as "trailer trash from East Texas" who escaped his unpleasant lot by playing football at LSU, during which time he discovered during weekend forays the sexual freedom offered by New Orleans. After college, he moves there, becomes a policeman for a few years, then leaves the force to become a private investigator.

Because of his upbringing, Chanse has trouble connecting with people in any meaningful way. His only close friend and confidant is Paige Tourneur, a newspaper reporter and later editor of a local magazine, whom he met when they were both at LSU. She is his sounding board, and through her connection to the newspaper and magazine, she often helps him unearth information vital to his investigations. Other continuing characters include two police detectives and a lawyer who is useful but can not be trusted.

The cases he recounts are various, but nearly all arise from the particular culture of New Orleans: the history of violence that plagues the city, the homophobia lurking under the surface tolerance of gay men and lesbians, suspected hate crimes, the grim secrets jealously guarded by old and powerful families, and endemic political and judicial corruption.

Most of the characters and events in the novels are fictional and should be regarded as such, but two of the most horrific events are not: the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans caused by the failure of the levees in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 1973 firebombing of a gay French Quarter bar, the Upstairs Lounge, which killed 32 people and remains the deadliest fire in New Orleans history.

In Murder in the Rue Chartres, Herren powerfully describes the paralyzing emptiness felt by New Orleans residents as they returned from a six-week exile and their fear that the city they love might not survive; and he evokes the horror of bodies so badly burned that they were unrecognizable, many of them clinging together, and many unclaimed by their cold-hearted relatives. This book richly deserves its Lambda Literary Award.

The Scotty Bradley series consists so far of five novels: Bourbon Street Blues (2002), Jackson Square Jazz (2004), Mardi Gras Mambo (2006), Vieux Carré Voodoo (2010), and Who Dat Whodunnit (2011). Although the crimes in these novels are serious, the tone is lighter than that in the Chance MacLeod series. Indeed, whereas the MacLeod novels are frequently morose, the Bradley novels are often buoyant and comic.

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