Obedience - Joseph Hansen
Dave is retiring. Cecil has finally persuaded him. Heís going to build some book shelves. He last all of about two hours before heís taken on another caseóa dangerous feud between rival Vietnamese families.
Dave is hired by a local Public Defender to investigate the murder of an eldery Vietnamese man who owned a boat dock. The dock is home to a group of ďwhite boat peopleĒ in an ironic twist that Hansen may have been writing too early to see. Poor people, with nowhere else to go, live of rickety old boats at the dock. But Mr Le now wants to sell the dock to developers and theyíll be thrown out. Mr Le is murdered and one of the boat people, a one-armed Vet who hates the Vietnamese, is arrested for the murder.
Dave becomes embroiled in one of the most dangerous cases of his life, so close to death at one point that a friend asks him if heís trying to kill himself rather than face retirement.
Thereís a real air of melancholy over these novels now. Dave is sixty-five. His death is on his mind and his lover, Cecil, canít be more than in his late twenties. Dave knows that Cecil will be left alone, just as he was when Rob died (thatís where we came into the story in Fadeout). Dave has begun to feel frail, too. His body canít do the things it once did; heís not as strong or as fast and heís not invulnerable.
Itís a measure of just how good this series is that each one of these books throws you a new curve and only makes you like them more.
Dave Brandstetter is getting old.† LadyM and I reckon heís around 65 in this 10th book.† Right from the start, with Daveís formal retirement as he sends notice to companies heís worked for since leaving Medallion, his heart is heavy.† His introspective mood affected me deeply.† Taking a break I went for a walk but couldnít escape profound sadness.† One day not too far off Cecil is going to be left alone, as Dave was when Rod died before first book Fadeout.† Dave nursed his lover through horrible lingering death from cancer, in the same way David was there for Sean in Longtime Companion.† It left him emotionally dead, the cold fish of earlier novels.† Cecil saved him.
Now it looks like Cecil has worn him down, or so Dave naughtily lets his young lover think.† Knowing he should hang up his spurs leaving relentless pursuit of truth & justice to a younger generation, and actually doing it, however, are two different things.†
Those bookshelves he wants to build to contain the piles scattered round the house are no substitute for the work that is his life.† Well, that and Cecil.† And Iím still not sure whether heíd put that Ďfine brown frameí top of the list.† Though he loves Cecil in his own way, and says concern for him overrides all other considerations, when the chips are down itís the job that comes first.† Heís forever staying away from home when he could be spending precious time with Cecil.† It seems in this book heís far too tired for anything other than lying with Cecil spooned to his back.† And that bothers me.† Because Cecil deserves better.† Just the sight of his naked body, Ďpure cane sugarí, revives Dave, old and weary as he is.
Thereís a lovely scene where Cecil plays nursemaid, making Dave a hot toddy to ward off a cold.† I think Dave worries heís going to put Cecil through the same experience he had with Rod, and possibly subconsciously he wants to go quickly, like his father Carl, a massive heart attack, mercifully quick.† He eats too well, smokes far too much, likes his booze, keeps irregular hours and follows a punishing schedule.† But he canít quit.† Though his body isnít up to it and his mind no longer as sharp, even at half-cock Dave is still best in his field, as everyone he meets seems to tell him.† He gets results.† Okay he almost gets killed and Cecil must stand by helplessly waiting.† Yet they both know heís never going to stop.†
Around all this hangs the detective mystery plot.† Daveís retirement doesnít even last a single day!† Heís called upon by a young assistant from the DAís office, Tracy Davis, who works with Daveís old family lawyer Greenglass, to clear her half-brother, Andy Flanagan, of a murder charge.† Le Van Minh, Vietnamese owner of an old marina wanted for development, was shot down at the harbour.† Andy is a hothead war vet, an amputee with a grudge, the vocal representative of the boatpeople, poor or old or dispossessed misfits with nowhere else to go.† Dave soon discovers other prominent Vietnamese businessmen have recently died violently, at the hands of doll-boy hitmen with Uzis.† But itís see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil from the Vietnamese community.† Armed with his own gun, reedy and brittle, Dave is back on the job with hardly a second thought.†
Dave is a moral man driven by desire for justice blind to colour, class, sexuality and creed, in an increasingly murky world reflected in the changing face of the California he loves that Hansen evokes so beautifully.† Corruption finances the American dream.† Yet itís the innocents who get hurt, and though Dave just canít be ruthless any more, like old friend Ken Barker of the LAPD he doesnít know how to do anything else.†
Sadly, too, heís still uncloaking closet gays, ashamed and furtive, leading double lives.† Like I said above, this is a sad book.† I approach the final two with some trepidation, in two minds whether I want to go there, with a man Iíve come to love and care for very much indeed.† Unmissable, as all titles in this groundbreaking series that deserves wider recognition beyond that horrid gay ghetto.
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