Skinflick - Joseph Hansen
(Dave Brandstetter Detective Novel #5)
This is the fifth in the Brandstetter series after Fadeout, Death Claims, Troublmaker and The Man Everyone Was Afraid Of, and itís as if the whole series has suddenly surged with life. I actually wonder if Hansen didnít carefully craft these novels to do just this. Fadeout was Brandstetterís fading after Rob (his lover of 20 years) died. Death Claims was death still claiming him: he just couldnít shake Robís influence despite trying to recreate him with his look-alike Doug. But even the name of Skinflick sparks with life and energy and so does the plot.
Dave and Doug are over, and for once this didnít upset me, even though Iíd been rooting for them in Death Claims. Carl (Daveís father) has died and left him enough money to be comfortable on for life. But Dave loves his work, so now he need only work for the love of it. As Carl predicted, Daveís had to leave Medellion: run off because he's gay, despite being one of the most famous Private Investigators in the country and working for them for twenty years. Heís gone to a rival firm, picking and choosing jobs that suit him.
In this one, a local churchman has been murdered. As usual, Dave thinks the police have the wrong suspect in custody. The investigation takes him to the seamy side of LA: cheap motels, porno movie sets and strip joints. For once, this novel isnít about gay issues, the perpetrators are all heterosexual and into very young girls. Itís a real indictment of the seedy underbelly of the Christian Right.
Dave has a new house up in the Californian mountains. It used to be a fencing studio and is not really a home yet. But itís a great allegory for Daveís life. With some TLC you know itís going to be lovely. I particularly liked the periphery characters in this book for the way they bring out Daveís beautiful nature. Heís an immensely kind, wise man, and he walks almost Christ-like over the troubled waters of other peopleís lives, literally risking his life for people he cares about. Carlís nineteen-year old widow, Amanda, is grieving so badly she doesnít think she can go on. Dave gives her his house as a project, and you see her literally coming back to life amongst the tile and paint samples. A fellow investigator whose wife has left him has become an alcoholic. Dave takes him into his house and makes him a partner on the case.
A really great read and thank God Cerisaye is busy sending me the next two as I write!†
This fifth book in the Brandstetter series is melancholic.† Itís transitional, a bridge between the life Dave has known for 25 years and a new beginning.† Carl, his father, is dead, and Dave no longer works for his insurance company.† He has just moved into a new house, for the first time in his life on his own.† Yes, Dave & Doug have split after three troubled years.† And heís got a new car, a British Triumph replacing the old Electra.
The thing readers of previous book The Man Everybody was Afraid Of will most want to know is what about Cecil?† Well, sorry but heís not in this novel.† Hardly surprising given the way his brother made it clear what would happen if Dave went anywhere near the 19 year-old.††
Having walked away from Medallion before the board could fire him, Dave is now freelance.† Before equal rights and anti-discrimination legislation for gay people, corporations were openly homophobic without redress.† 25 years service and a reputation as the best in the business count as nothing, as Carl warned.† Dave seems resigned but one of his police colleagues reckons itís got him rattled.† Certainly he screws up more than we've seen before.† Though finding out that Carl kept a file of all his sonís press clippings probably means more to Dave than the bigoted views of a company he doesnít need.†
Dave has been hired by Sequoia, employers of old friend Delgado, lost in a haze of alcohol since his wife left him.† When Delgado shows up drunk and lonely, offering himself to Dave for a place to stay, Brandstetterís reaction isnít quite what he expects.† Dave canít hide the anger Delgadoís assumption raises in him.† No wonder since the poor guyís practically a monk.† Well, not quite.† He does have one small liaison during the course of this book, a delicious crumb of comfort with someone rather unexpected.
The most important relationship in this book is the friendship between Dave and Amanda, Carlís widow, who he ropes into doing up his ramshackle home, to give an outlet for her grief.† The way Amanda recoils in horror from the unpleasant aspects of Daveís work shows how lucky Don Strachey is to have Timmy.† Doug was never going to be Tim for Dave.† Cecil though was different.†
Gerald Dawson is dead, his neck broken.† The police arrested Lon Tooker for his murder, the owner of a sex shop targeted by Dawsonís God squad of vigilantes.† A few things about the case bother Dave.† Where had the dead man been on the night he died?† Why had he recently written some rather large† cheques?† And what about that packet of birth control pills in his pocket, when his wife was nearly 60?
Daveís investigation takes in the murky world of softcore porn or Ďskinflicksí, and the hustlers on Sunset Strip looking for that big break.† Kids like Charleen, a 16 year-old nymphet missing since the night Dawson died. Is Daveís guess correct that the sanctimonious Dawson had more going on in his life than work, the church and his family?
LadyM is right.† Dave is driven by an acute sense of justice.† It bothers him that an innocent man languishes in jail while the real culprit walks free.† Except Dave is lacking focus this time out.† He seems weary, the work thatís usually a welcome distraction from personal problems another burden.† Dave deserves more in his life than death and the darker side of human nature.† Heís gorgeous and smart and has so much love in him.† In a way Iím glad he slips in this novel, even though it nearly gets him killed, because it makes him more human.† Now theyíve started filming the Strachey books, wouldnít it be marvellous if Brandstetter came next?† A tall, beautiful, golden actor?† Hmmmn.