Early Graves - Joseph Hansen
Brandstetter # 9

Ladymol's Review

If my theory about the naming of these novels is correct, then this is the best one yet. Dave is in an early grave, in terrible grief and indecision about Cecil’s marriage to the blind girl Chrissie. I find it very hard to reconcile Cecil’s actions here. He clearly doesn’t see his relationship with Dave the same was Dave does: like a marriage. He wouldn’t feel free to marry Chrissie if he did—however noble that act is in its own way.

Dave refuses to let Cecil share himself between them: it’s all or nothing with Dave. I think there’s an element of spite in this, which rather amuses me. Dave is in his late 50s, and he feels his time with Cecil is limited and he’s very bitter that it’s being wasted like this. There’s a genuinely heartbreaking scene in Cecil’s van when he picks Dave up from the airport where they talk through the situation. On returning from this to his house, they discover a young man dead on the patio. He apparently had AIDS and was stabbed: the fifth victim of a so-called AIDS serial killer.

This is a fascinating story about the early days of AIDS in American: the fear and the homophobia it engendered. 

Cerisaye's Review

Dave returns to Horseshoe Canyon one night to discover a body on his doorstep, a little close to home.  When it turns out the dead man, Drew Dodge, is the latest victim of a serial killer targeting young gay men dying from AIDS it’s even closer.  Of course Dave being Dave he needs to know who the killer is and why did he deposit Dodge at HIS door?

Inevitably Hansen was going to have to tackle AIDS and the paranoia and hysteria created by the epidemic in the general population (remember those UK government ads with the iceberg?).  Hatred, fear and ignorance make a bad situation far worse: ‘Fags cause AIDS.  Kill all fags’.  Families deny their sick children, while others with compassion and understanding do their best with very little help from the authorities.  A landlady wants a victim’s lover out of her house because he’s a pervert spreading filthy disease, forcing him to move back to his parents’ house and they don’t even know he’s gay.  Meanwhile sympathy goes out to the acceptable victims, wives and mothers, the ‘innocent’, i.e. not gay.

The novel is a moving indictment of contemporary attitudes towards AIDS victims and gay men, a testimony of its time from the viewpoint of a middle-aged gay man.  AIDS taints everything.  Even death cannot be dignified.  Drew’s friends deny him, no one attending his funeral except those who had to be there.  People didn’t care he was a conman and a cheat.  That he was gay and had a gay disease puts him beyond the pale.  Those with AIDS lose everything, jobs, money, dreams and life itself.  Dave, already suffering over Cecil, is made sick to his soul by the suffering and grief caused by AIDS.

 Cecil married Chrissie the blind girl at the end of the previous book.  Now he has to live with the consequences of his good intentions.  Or so says Dave.  Who is horrible to Cecil, sneering at him for trying to please the two people he cares about most in the world.  It’s all screwed up.  Chrissie likes Dave and misses being around him.  Dave of course is horrid because he’s still angry with Cecil and misses him like crazy.  When he gets home to find the younger man naked in his bed, Dave simply tells him to get dressed.  Chrissie has to know the truth, because they are all three miserable with the status quo. 

How I cursed Dave!  All those lovers enduring AIDS and he’s hung up over an act of (misguided) kindness, yet he’s out working, wounded and in pain, drugged to the eyeballs, obsessed as usual.

We revisit a couple of characters from an earlier case, Tom Owens and his lover, the painter Larry Johns who Dave once got off on a murder charge, still together, another successful intergenerational relationship.

Dave again says he’s going to retire, that he wants to die in bed holding Cecil in his arms.  So how does he resolve that with his refusal to bend over the situation re Chrissie, or the way he keeps putting himself in the line of fire?  And he’s got the nerve to tell Cecil he shouldn’t be alone.  Damn the man.

But I loved the ending, with Dave so happy he could whistle in the rain!

Buy from Lambda in the States here