On The Other Hand, Death - Richard Stevenson
(2nd in the Donald Strachey series)
The second in the Don Strachey series of detective novels. I enjoyed Death Trick so much that I was very eager to get back into the head of this engaging man, Don Strachey. Set a couple of years after the events of Death Trick, Don and Timmy are still together, although Don’s straying eye doesn’t make for an easy relationship. Their ups and downs make a great counterpoint to the events of the crime, and you find yourself desperately hoping that it works out well for everyone.
Don is such a likeable guy that you forgive him his trespasses even when they hurt Timmy deeply. Don knows he’s flawed, and his engaging honestly is the great beauty of these books. He reminded me very much of Dakota Taylor, who had a similar straying eye.
The crime in this novel, as with Death Trick, is not what it seems at the beginning. A relatively simple case of vandalism turns into a nasty kidnapping and murder. Don and Timmy are pulled into the heart of the action once more for the man kidnapped is a prominent gay activist. Don’s contacts in the gay world of Albany make him the ideal person to solve the case. Distracted as he is by his tumultuous relationship with Timmy, he finds it harder and harder to stay one step ahead of the criminals.
What I particularly like about these novels is the very understated writing, in which a lot is said, only you don’t necessarily see it at the time. A look, a single word, an action can drive these volatile men to breaking point, but as Strachey is never explicit about his life with Timmy, you have to work this out for yourself. At one point, Timmy is so stressed by Don’s behaviour that he gets out of the car and throws up. It’s only when you realise that Don spent two hours “questioning” a suspect that you get why Timmy’s upset. I love the way the book is filled with little details like this.
The sex is less graphic in this one than in Death Trick, but it’s almost as if the author was more confident about his writing and his gay characters to take that step away from the prurient aspects of gay writing.
I read this novel in a couple of days and thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. The supporting characters are rich with lives and voices of their own; the plot hums along. But I’d be quite happy just with two days and Don on his own. Highly recommended.
By the time I finished this second Donald Strachey novel I was totally in love. With macho Don, Albany’s gay PI. And his beautifully developed relationship with lover, Timmy Callahan. The writing again is top class. A tense, clever thriller with snappy dialogue, believable characters and exciting dénouement.
As I become immersed in Strachey’s world, I worry about the forthcoming TV treatment. Especially if rumours about Timmy’s absence prove correct. A gay gumshoe is one thing, a sexually active gay man a whole lot of other? Their exchanges are a large part of the books’ charm, and I just can’t imagine Don without the steadying influence of Jesuitical Tim.
This time out the PI is called to investigate a vendetta against elderly lesbian couple Dot & Edith, whose home is wanted for a redevelopment project by Crane Trefusis, oily chairman of rapacious building company Millpond. Trefusis has made Dot an offer he thinks she can’t refuse. The twist is that Don is working for Crane.
Again there’s a political dimension: proposed ‘coming out day’ for a week-long gay national strike letting the straights run things alone. General apathy in the gay community, or fear of consequences, threatens to scupper this wake-up call to the existence of gay people in all walks of life.
On the personal side, Don worries about an old flame of Timmy’s who turns up out of the blue. With the arrival of AIDS in the gay community, Strachey mourns the passing of 70s disco fever and sexual freedom. It doesn’t stop him feeling the urge. Then the guilt. Especially when he thinks Timmy is also playing away.
Vandalism and nasty threats become kidnapping when Dot’s young houseguest Peter Greco disappears. His lover, McWhirter, is a San Francisco activist organising the gay strike. Are the cases linked? Don learns McWhirter is ruthless, that he plays dirty. Is the whole kidnap/ransom a ploy to raise money for gay good causes?
Strachey’s nosing around turns up evidence of a gang of vigilante cops. Lieutenant Ned Bowman is homophobic, but unlike many of Albany’s finest he’s decent and honest. He and Strachey are on the same side, and they’re learning to accept that, working towards grudging mutual respect.
When things get deadly, Don has a hard time. He’s distracted, over-tired, over-stretched, and over-anxious about Timmy, who’s having problems with Strachey’s continued need for tricks. He worries he’s blown it this time. Dot & Edith show gay partnerships endure, with love and devotion.
Homophobia externalised turns to violence against others. We look into the darkness of self-hatred that makes a man seek his own punishment and degradation. A family man in a sexual relationship with the worst gay lowlife he can find because THAT’S what he deserves. Brutal, ugly, violent, exploitational. No love or tenderness. It’s more than living two lives, like Don did before his divorce. It surely makes Don realise what he has with Timmy is worth more than the casual encounters he says he can’t give up.
Strachey works to uncover the truth. Gay men are supposed to be a threat to society, a corrupting evil. That’s a lie, of course. Powerful men like Crane Trefusis are the real evil. With plenty of twists & turns, the story builds momentum before reaching a tense conclusion. Very highly recommended. It pays to read between the lines, so don’t skim too much.
ST Martin's Press. ISBN: 0312118716
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