Death Claims - Joseph Hansen
(The second Dave Brandstetter Novel)
This is the second in this series. The first, Fadeout, was so good we got the second! Dave Brandstetter, the gay insurance investigator is back. He has to investigate the apparent death by accidental drowning of a man who was recently recovered from a major, disfiguring fire.
The plotting is excellent. Brandstetter is a very likeable character. His relationship with Doug (the man he met in Fadeout) is very rocky. They are both living with the ghosts of their past (dead) lovers. Rod, the twenty-year love of Daveís life, still ďlivesĒ with him in the house Rod chose, decorated and loved. Doug has the records and magazines and photographs of his racing car driver lover, Jean-Paul, stashed in the wardrobe to remind him of that one, great love. They need to lay the ghosts to rest and embrace the living, but itís not easy for either of them to do. Itís particularly not easy to do as Daveís job absorbs him, and he burns himself out on cases, leaving little worth bringing home to Doug.
Weíre reading two detective series, this one and the Donald Strachey series by Richard Stevenson. They are very different. Brandstetter is a much quieter character and the stories are in the third person, so we have to work a little harder to get inside Daveís head. Itís well worth the effort though and Iím very fond of him already and really looking forward to the third novel.
For his second outing, 45 year-old insurance investigator Dave Brandstetter gets involved in a complicated case centred on John Oats, a dead bookseller.† Oats had an ex-wife, young girlfriend and a beautiful son whose mother says he couldnít possibly have killed the father he loved.†
Oats was drowned in the ocean near his home, where he had a habit of nightswimming to hide horrific scars marking his body from an accident.† Business wasnít going too well, and Oats and his girlfriend lived in genteel poverty, bitter that old friends no longer came round.
With his usual dogged determination and ruthless efficiency that doesnít go down too well with those involved in the case, Dave follows the chain of evidence to get to the truth. A gay man investigating a case where secret homosexuality emerges as a motive for murder.† Dave is a more remote character than PI Don Strachey, harder to like- Iíd be nervous in his company, whereas Iíd sit down with Don like an old friend.
Meanwhile at home,† new boyfriend Doug, the man he met in Fadeout, sits lonely and neglected. Daveís workaholic habits and continued mourning for longtime partner Rod, who died from cancer the year before, make for a more melancholy character, a man whose uncertain personal life contrasts with the methodical way he finds solutions to his cases.† Tim supports Don in his work because he understands their relationship always comes first.† Daveís partner Doug resents the investigatorís focus on work.††
Doug has his own ghost, a young man passed-off as a stepson, killed in an accident.† Neither Dave nor Doug is over his loss, both damaged and withdrawn.† They pretend everything is fine but itís not.† Dave doesnít want to spend time with Doug because heís all too aware itís not his company he really wants.† Likewise Doug lives in a house thatís a shrine to a dead man, sleeping in his bed, knowing he can never be Rod for Dave.† Itís no coincidence each man closely resembles the otherís lost love, not exactly the sign of a healthy relationship.†
A tough case doesnít help, keeping Dave away from home and leaving Doug to brood.† Another difference between Dave and Don, whoíd never allow a case to come between him and lover Timmy.† Can Dave and Doug patch up their differences and make it work?† Dave Brandstetter can appear very cold and unfeeling.† His job influences his outlook while Don Strachey has a quiet haven, the certainty of the love of a good man to go home to.† Dave allows dealings with treachery, greed and ambition leading to murder and betrayal, to colour an already repressed nature.† He does care.† He doesnít want to be alone and he and Doug do have something worth fighting for.† Is it too late?
This is a satisfying detective mystery, with clever twists & turns, but itís Dave & Doug that held my interest.† The book is well written, more classic detective fiction than Stevensonís Strachey books, where the cases explore gay issues.† Dave is a complex character who draws me back, each time hoping to get closer to the man behind the mask.† Recommended whodunnit.