Monday, April 11, 2005

Joseph Hansen's Novels

Joseph Hansen deserves his own post. I enjoyed his books so much, and am so sad I found them after his death.

Just finished Fadeout (1972) by Joseph Hansen, recently deceased. Too bad it took me so long to find Dave Brandstetter, bereaved gay insurance investigator. Good twists and turns in Sixties California, and a nice noir ending. Next ordered:
The man everybody was afraid of and Death claims. Finished Death claims (1973) at the cabin. Nice twists and turns. I love how Hansen intertwines the personal life of his Dave B., and the mystery he is trying to solve.

Our power was out for 5 hours today because of a wind storm. I took the opportunity to finish The man everybody was afraid of (1978), my favorite so far. The ending was a bit of a let-down, after the high tension of the main story. But all ends were tied up neatly, I guess. I need to order the next 2 or 3. While I'm waiting for them, I started one of my Christmas books, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, which is the beginning of a long series of long books. This one is 850 pages (paperback), and there are 7 books so far. It's set in the Highlands of Scotland, near where my McPhails, Macphersons and MacQueens came from, and straddles the world of post-war Britain and 18th-century Scotland. Sex, romance, fantasy, history, heroic deeds AND genealogy -- what's not to like? Finished Outlander tonight, and it was even better than I hoped. On to Hansen's Troublemaker (1975), which I had to ILL. So I got them a bit out of order. Troublemaker was a quick read! And a bit lack-luster, compared to the others. I wish I could have read it in order. Trouble on the horizon for both Dave's father (heart) and his relationship with Doug, and of course the mystery is solved, finally. And naturally, I'm still waiting for Skinflick (1997) too (ILL). sigh.

Next up, Gravedigger (1982). When I finished Gravedigger (it was a short one), I went looking on the Web for more information about Joseph Hansen, and happened onto his blog, No wonder I love his books -- the man can not only write, but THINK! Gravedigger, by the way, is really good. So exciting, really, I didn't want to put it down. Why does Dave put himself in such danger?

And they just keep getting better and better (and shorter)! Nightwork (1984) might be the best yet. This one involves illegal waste dumping, along with racism, racist gangs, poverty and corporate malfeasance. Romping good story, and I think he and his lover Cecil are finally in a good place. About time for some happiness!

Next, The Little Dog Laughed (1986). This is the most political yet. And it has little to do with gay issues, either, although the hypocricy of the US military about gay soldiers is certainly highlighted. The bad guy is a thinly-disguised Oliver North with his own private army, but once again Dave escapes with his dignity. What wit, what charm! The surprise ending is a laugh -- I can't wait to see where Hansen takes this. Skinflick is in at the library, so I'll be dipping back to the past.

But first, an oldie that Hansen wrote under the nom de plume Rose Brock, Longleaf. Part historical, part romance, part mystery-thriller. What hooked me was Bird's search for her true family, which meant going from her little town in post-Civil War east Tennessee to the mysteries and dangers of New Orleans. What bothered me was a genealogist niggle -- only the *father's* family was inquired into; there was not a search for the marriage record, and thus, Bird's mother's family name. Oh, well! It was a good read. All right, Skinflick. What a great book, and a pivotal part of the series. Not only does Dave confront the sex trade (bodies, books & mags and films), but also the death of his father and loss of his rebound relationship (and his car!). So he has to rely on friends, both personally and professionally. He ends up almost dead, but I think this is the low point, and he survives. Solves the mystery, but his company still has to pay out the money......

Thomas was working on my computer most of the day, so it was fortunate that Early Graves (1987) came in! This is Hansen's first treatment of AIDS, and it's a doozy! Hard to remember the fear and loathing that surrounded HIV and those who were afflicted with it, today. And yet, the fear and loathing continue in some places. I was thinking this was a bit late, but I see that Philadelphia didn't come out until 1993. This was string of murders of gay men, all infected -- and it ended up right on Dave's doorstep. Literally. Dave's life is at risk in so many ways! He survives, though, and Cecil still loves him.

I'm so sad that this series is about to end for me. Dave is getting tired, though. In The Boy Who Was Buried This Morning (1990), he gets on the case just to keep from boredom, sadness, and too much smoking and drinking. Aging is not for the faint of heart! Thank goodness he goes on the job, however, even if he can't save the life of one of the innocents. Hansen takes on the 'haters' - the KKK and their allies. And then buys a restaurant, and retires from the biz for good. I'm glad Hansen gives him in swan song in the last of the series, A Country of Old Men (1991). It will be difficult to bid Dave farewell.

I'm so sad and downhearted. I wish I had read the dozen books more slowly, so I had some left. A Country of Old Men was great, although the most difficult to read. The story begins with a battered and neglected pre-schooler who witnesses - maybe - a murder of a person he knows and trusts. Too much drinking, too many drugs, too many people who hurt those who love them because they crave their substance of choice more than they crave their loved ones. I've seen too much of this in real life. The mystery is nice and tangled and baffling, but the road is winding through sad country, and you know, heading to a sad ending. Bon voyage, dear Dave. I'll think of you often, and you too, Joe Hansen. How odd that I read the ending of this series the day after the death of Johnny Carson, whom Dave (and his father) so closely resembled. Wealthy, humble, reserved, compassionate, attractive. And they both disappeared from public view about the same time. Fare you well, all of you slim smiling men.

A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death. - Albert Einstein


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to Hansen's blog -- it was great to read. I loved his Brandstetter mysteries. He was such a humane writer.

Valorie Zimmerman said...

He certainly was humane. I wish there were more novels to read. I miss him.