Backtrack - Joseph Hansen
Set in the same time and place, and by the same author as the Brandstetter novels, Dave haunted this story for me. Itís a tight little thriller and I could just imagine him cutting through the tangles of the mystery. I miss Dave.
Alan Tarr, who lives with his somewhat bohemian mother, finds that his Hollywood actor father has died. Alan doesnít remember Ericóhe left his family when Alan was only six months old. Going to Ericís funeral, Alan meets a handsome, older man who almost faints at the sight of him. Heís met Thorntonóthe man his father left them for.
Alan takes the news that his father was gay relatively well, because heís now become obsessed with Thorntonís belief that Eric didnít jump from the window in the fall that killed him. If it wasnít suicide, then who killed him? Alan, all of eighteen and five foot four, decides to find out. He tracks down Ericís friends, agents and acting colleagues to question them, getting gradually closer and closer to the truth. The twin of his father, he creates some major ripples in the tiny world Eric and his friends moved. Alan constantly declares heís straight, fending off the desperate men whom Eric had loved and left. Alanís denials and his gradual finding of his own truth is as compulsive as his search to find Ericís. Finally, in a deserted apartment block, which is about to become victim to the building of a dam, he has to confront who he is to discover the truth about his fatherís death.
†Hansen can write. Itís as simple as that. The story keeps you reading. Itís surprisingly peppered with sex, given the times it was written. I found Alan a curious and interesting narrator. This one is certainly worth seeking out.
Eric Tait was a jobbing Hollywood actor.† When he kills himself, son Alan, whoíd never met him, hitchhikes to LA to attend the funeral.† There, by the graveside, he meets Thornton who says Eric was a faggot, that he had a new lover, and he did not commit suicide.
This is the Before part of the story.† When it opens, Alan is holed up with Catch, a black hospital orderly who takes care of him.† Helpless, he has both legs in plaster.† Gradually we find out how he came to be that way, and why whoever killed his father is now after Alan.
Alan is 18, the image of his dead father, a fact that unsettles everyone he meets once he begins digging into Ericís past.† Thornton was his Ericís lover, the man he left wife Babe & Alan for 17 years before.† It didnít last.† None of Ericís relationships, including marriage to an actress, ever did.† For Eric used people, took what he wanted then moved on to the next victim, effortless charm and blond good looks winning hearts over minds.
Alan gets drawn into Ericís world: men want him because heís so like his father.† Meanwhile Alan struggles with his own sexual identity.† On the way to the funeral he has a one-night stand with a hippy chick and fancies himself in love.† However her boyfriend has other ideas and decides to teach Alan a shocking lesson that only adds to his confusion.† Until he began opening up his fatherís past, Alan hadnít considered he might be attracted to men.
This is a sad book, filled with the kind of self-hatred that makes men hurt those who love them, because they canít love themselves: repressed feelings, unacknowledged desires they think wrong or shameful, lead to hardened hearts and cold, empty souls.†
Itís a period piece, set in Southern California in the late 60s, when Ďfaggotí and Ďqueerí were terms of abuse and derision not words reclaimed by politicised gay activists.† Written in Joseph Hansenís distinctive style but more graphic than the Brandstetter novels, the murder mystery focuses on characters and what makes them the way they are, than solving the crime.† Just about everyone close to the deceased had motive for killing him, though itís not even certain the death wasnít suicide.
A tangle of deceit, lies and emotional abuse unravels, a first person narrative with alternate Then & Now chapters revealing piece by piece whatís going on, not always what weíve been expecting either, as different characters add to the picture, until we reach the truth.†
Itís a boyís search for a father he never knew, a coming-of-age and coming out story, all rolled into one very satisfying whole that raises questions to which there are no easy answers.† A tense thriller about damaged men and the evil they do.† The sins of our fathers do not determine our destiny, unless we let that happen.†
Eric was a weak man who could not accept what he was, and it killed him.† Alan sees the worst in men, but also the best, that man-to-man love can be gentle and tender and good.†† Alan might look like his father, but owes more to Babe, his feisty mother, whoís a survivor, tough and undomestic, but warm and loving.†
This is a good introduction to Hansenís writing, tough and unsentimental.† Highly recommended.