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literature

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Mystery Fiction: Gay Male  
 
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Milton Scott ("Scotty") Bradley begins this series as a go-go boy who dances part time in a French Quarter gay bar, but eventually becomes a private detective. The son of superannuated, exuberantly gay-friendly hippies who are both from ultra conservative old New Orleans society families, Scotty reads the tarot and prays to "the Goddess," although both frequently give him ambiguous or incomplete visions.

While Chanse has trouble making connections with other people, Scotty is gregarious and his life is filled with interesting characters who support him emotionally and try to protect him from his own impulsiveness. He is also quite active sexually. Over the course of the novels, he moves from casual hookups to a relationship with one man and then the two of them admit a third man into their relationship.

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The crimes Scotty investigates are various, including the deliberate burning of the building in which Scotty lives, a right-wing plot to blow up the Mississippi River levee and drown the French Quarter, the theft of the Napoleon Bonaparte death mask from the Cabildo Museum, and the murder of a crusading anti-gay beauty queen.

The number and variety of skillfully developed characters, the meticulous attention to the New Orleans setting, and the intricate but believable plots make this series well worth reading.

Over the course of the two series, Herren has grown a great deal as a writer. More particularly, he has matured into a master of the mystery genre even as he has also balanced two very different series and managed quite distinct detectives.

The Vampire Cozies of Dean James

The most unusual series of the new millennium is by Dean James. It consists of four novels featuring a vampire, Simon Kirby-Jones, as the detective: Posted to Death (2002), Faked to Death (2003), Decorated to Death (2003), and Baked to Death (2005).

Using newly-developed pills that keep him from having to drink blood and protect him from burning up in daylight, Kirby-Jones, a gay scholar from the American South, realizes a long term dream by moving into Laurel Cottage in a small English village, Snupperton Mumsley. There he spends his nights and parts of his days writing both serious historical works and very popular mystery novels, the latter published under two female pseudonyms.

The other main characters in the series are the handsome young lord of the manor, Sir Giles Blitherington, who falls in love with Simon and volunteers to be his aide; the formidable Lady Hermione, Giles's domineering mother; and the very good-looking Detective Inspector Robin Chase, whose ambiguous sexual preference intrigues Simon.

The plots are the familiar ones of the English cozy mysteries: the murder of a village busybody, murder in a crowded country house, murder in a locked room, and murder at a country fair. Like his predecessors in the genre, James devises ingenious puzzles and plays fair with the reader. In addition, he makes both indirect and direct references to the classic cozy writers of the past, especially Agatha Christie, and has great fun with the genre.

The Kirby-Jones series is a witty, thoroughly enjoyable contribution to the gay mystery novel.

Anthony Bidulka's Russell Quant Series

Among the strongest of the series that emerged in the new millennium is the one helmed by private eye Russell Quant. Lambda Award-winner Anthony Bidulka has thus far written eight titles in the Russell Quant series: Amuse Bouche (2003), Flight of Aquavit (Lambda Award, 2004), Tapas on the Ramblas (2005), Stain of the Berry (2006), Sundowner Ubuntu (2007), Aloha, Candy Hearts (2009), Date with a Sheesha (2010), and Dos Equis (2012).

Private detective Quant, like Bidulka himself, resides in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and Bidulka paints a vivid picture of life in the Canadian prairie. But the detective's cases lead him to such exotic locales as the south of France, a luxury hotel in Manhattan, a fortress-like chateau in the Arctic, a cruise ship stopping in ports around the western Mediterranean, an African game preserve, Waikiki Beach, the sand dunes of Saudi Arabia, and Mexico's Costa Grande.

Much of the pleasure of the series comes from the contrast of the far-flung destinations to which Quant travels and the coziness of his home life in Saskatoon, where he is surrounded by an interesting circle of friends who make recurrent appearances in the series, as does Quant's mother, a widow steeped in her Ukranian background.

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