Jennifer Palmer has read crime fiction since her teenage years & enjoys reviewing within the many sub-genres that now exist; as a historian who lectures on real life historical mysteries she particularly appreciates historical cime fiction.
For the under 50 year-olds this is a
historical crime novel, for the over 50’s it is provides memories of a very
different era; it is also a game changer in crime since it has a gay
The book was published originally in 1970 and is now being reprinted. It
gives a fascinating view of a strangely innocent period in sexual behaviour
before the arrival of AIDS. Joseph Hansen wrote it in 1967 but it was
1970 before he could get it published. He, himself, apparently never
liked the word gay, he preferred homosexual. He certainly writes with
visceral depth about his protagonist, insurance investigator Dave Brandsetter.
Dave is concerned with the case of a man with large life insurance
whose car has gone into a fast moving creek from a high bridge but whose body
has not been found. We are in California, USA in a small ranch town
called Pima where this disappearance happened.
Dave is a tough, persistent, low key investigator who gradually accumulates
enough knowledge to understand something of what motivates the accident victim
and those with whom he interacts. As his investigation
progresses we learn much more about Dave's own background and the sadness he is
suffering after a bereavement. His own homosexuality is fully established
as is the persistently demeaning attitude of others that these are weak,
useless individuals. A charge that Dave himself proves absolutely wrong.
He is a middle aged man whose ability to investigate is never compromised
by his sexual orientation; but whose attitudes are free of the desire to make
California is shown as a state of great contrasts in wealth, culture and
behaviour. Most of the characters are flawed and a number are very
unappealing. The raw power of the story carries the reader along with the
dry, laid back Californian style. Obviously originally written as a
contemporary novel it is now a historical document. As I remember the
1970s was the era of expanding boundaries when the crime story burst out of previous
limits in particular regarding the identity of detectives. Women made the
break through into US detection with Sarah Paretsky and Sue Grafton in 1982
- hard to remember how much of a dramatic development this was! In
fact P.D.James had established Cordelia Gray as her protagonist in 1972.
Detectives who were black, disabled or homosexual started appearing on
the scene with In The Heat of the Night
as front runner in 1965. Hansen's book has the freshness a good storyteller
can give though his tale is on a fairly limited palette perhaps by modern