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literature

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Mystery Fiction: Gay Male  
 
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Ultimately, the series is made memorable by Bidulka's appealing portrayal of Quant himself, a witty, well-adjusted, youngish gay man enmeshed in his community.

As Raymond-Jean Frontain has observed, "As in the noir tradition, Bidulka's narratives are told in the detective's own voice. But unlike the somber, world-weary voice of the iconic Sam Spade, or of Joseph Hansen's groundbreaking gay insurance claims investigator Dave Brandstetter, [Quant's] is chatty, and occasionally even campy. While forced to endure his share of the physical altercations that come with his profession, he is more likely to negotiate danger with a quip than with his fists."

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As the Russell Quant series has progressed the novels have become more serious and have exhibited increasing depth even as they maintain a deceptively light veneer. Although humor remains an important ingredient in the novels, Bidulka does not shy away from serious issues and themes.

Neil Plakcy's Hawaiian Series

Neil Plakcy's Mahu series, set in Hawaii and featuring the multiracial gay police detective Kimo Kanapa'aka, consists of six novels and a collection of short stories: Mahu: A Hawai'ian Mystery (2005; reissued 2009), Mahu Surfer (2007), Mahu Fire (2008), Mahu Vice (2009), Mahu Men (short stories, 2010), Mahu Blood (2011), and Zero Break (2012). "Mahu" is a pejorative term for gay in Hawaiian, and as Plakcy remarks, "I hope that by using it in my titles I'm helping to take the sting out of it and reclaim the power behind it."

As the series opens, Kimo is deeply closeted, partly because of the homophobia in the Honolulu Police Department, but more importantly because he fears a loss of the love and respect of his large extended family. When he is thrust out of the closet by a murder case in which he is involved, he finds support in a few members of the department and eventually in all members of his family.

Like many Hawaiians, Kimo is of mixed heritage: Polynesian, Japanese, and Caucasian. During the course of the series, he meets and falls in love with a handsome arson investigator, Mike Riccardi, whose father is Italian-American and whose mother is Korean. Mike's initial refusal to come out publicly causes a breakup of their relationship, but eventually they get together again and create a family of their own.

The plots are well-constructed, and the writing is crisp. But the best aspects of the series are the many well-drawn characters and the vivid descriptions of the exotic locale.

Stephen E. Stanley's Jesse Ashworth Series

Stephen Stanley's series featuring retired teacher Jesse Ashworth consists so far of four novels: A Midcoast Murder (2009), Murder in the Choir Room (2010), The Big Boys' Detective Agency (2010), and Murder on Mt. Royal (2011). All have the same central cast of characters, and all but the fourth are set in Bath, Maine.

Stanley's books are cozies that feature interesting and appealing characters. Jesse is a retired high school English teacher whose hobby is cooking. He returns to settle in his hometown along with a wisecracking female colleague. He reconnects with some of his high school friends, notable among them the police chief, with whom he begins an affair. When the chief retires, he and Jesse take over a moribund detective agency.

The cast is unusual (and refreshing) for a gay detective series in that all of the major characters are over fifty, still sexually active, and nicely integrated into a generally accepting community.

The plots are workmanlike, and the settings interesting, but the writing is marred by carelessness. Most annoying are the repetitiveness, including whole passages in virtually the same wording, typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors. An editor and proofreader would greatly improve this potentially excellent series.

David Lennon's Quarter Boys Series

Lambda Award-winning David Lennon has published five novels in his Quarter Boys series: The Quarter Boys (2010), Echoes (2010, Lambda Award), Second Chance (2011), Blue's Bayou (2012), and Reckoning (2012). The novels are set in the New Orleans French Quarter and environs; but Lennon's title for the series is somewhat misleading. Only the first book is centered on the transvestite hustlers who make up the "Quarter boys."

The other four novels focus on two detectives, the youthful, initially closeted Michel Doucette and his older partner, the middle-aged African American Alexandra Jones, who goes by the nickname "Sassy." Two other continuing characters are young men from Mississippi who were for a time associated with the Quarter boys, Joel Faulkner, who becomes Michel's on-again, off-again lover, and Joel's longtime friend, Chance LeDuc.

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