The Boy Who Was Burried This Morning - Joseph Hansen
I suspect I’m preaching to the converted by now. If you’re reading this review for the penultimate Brandstetter book, then you’ve stuck with the series and love them as I do. In that case, you probably won’t be put off when I saw that I found this book quite depressing in many ways: you’re going to finish the series, like me, regardless of these reviews!
Dave is quite old now—late sixties is my guess, although that’s not actually specified. He’s become old in his mind, though: always such a physical, vigorous man, his physical limitations affect him emotionally out of proportion to their actual physical effects. I found this immensely depressing, and there’s no compensating reduction, as it were—almost no sweet scenes with Cecil, for example. This is like watching someone you love grow old and it’s too close to real life for my taste just at the moment. I hover between that uneasy state of not being old myself yet, but loving intensely those that are, so this book really hit a sensitive spot with me. Also, Hanson’s view of life in the States seems to be becoming depressingly bleaker as the series goes on. Dave is plunged into the murky world of neo-Nazis and white supremacists. It was an amusing juxtaposition when Dave (gay and sleeping with a black man) was talking to the leader of this group of racist paramilitary. I kept wanting Dave to blurt it out, just to see the man die of apoplexy.
I’m pretty much dreading the final book now. This one ended with Cecil in tears. I think there are going to be more tears before bedtime.
But I’m hooked and I’ll be in there to the bitter end.
Hansen paints such vivid pictures of people and places it’s as though you’re following the camera’s eye in a film of the book. No one evokes mood and atmosphere better with so few words. He pays close attention to bit-part characters- weary waitresses of a certain age, old women in shabby kitchens living on social security, elderly building supervisors who’ve seen too much- and always sets a scene. We know what kind of clothes Dave Brandstetter likes to wear, what he has to eat, his favourite whisky…all his little habits, likes & dislikes.
This is the 11th (penultimate) book in a series that spans four decades, a carefully developed history of one man’s experience, professional and personal. That Dave is gay isn’t an issue. Very few people he meets guess and he almost never tells, even under circumstances you think he would, for empathy or to show solidarity. Yet through Dave Brandstetter Hansen has done more to promote understanding of gay experience than many activists, not least by showing how little sexuality matters, that two men can share love as meaningful and long-lasting as straight relationships.
Hansen never describes Dave directly, though we’re told through other characters often enough how beautiful he is, and I imagine him rather like Paul Newman, strikingly handsome even in old age. ‘A foolish, fond old man’ is how he thinks himself in this novel, too often ambushed by memories, of when he was younger and people he cared about were still alive.
Officially retired, Dave has taken a recent death hard, and Cecil understandably is worried. Forgetting to eat, drinking too much, Dave is lost and tired. The only way to get Dave back in the game is to put him back to work. Cecil finds him a case, when a boy, Vaughn Thomas, he’d briefly worked with in the TV newsroom gets his head blown off playing paintball, a death written off by the police as accidental. Cecil is sure there’s more to it.
Vaughn was scared and jumpy, and now the young woman he lived with has run off in a desperate hurry, taking her young son, just after another well-dressed man like Dave called to see her. Vaughn was a rich kid who turned his back on family to join a paramilitary group dedicated to those causes most dear to angry white American males: white supremacist, antigay, racist. So why then did Vaughn leave the group before he died, and go into hiding? Does his girlfriend’s ex-husband want to kill or save her?
Maybe Dave isn’t as quick as he used to be, and certainly that bothers him because people get hurt as a result, but he’s still sharper than most. Ruthless as ever, too and prone to recklessness in his single-minded devotion to truth and justice, Dave never quits, even though his life is in danger.
Poor Cecil, you really feel for him. He loves Dave so much he sets him onto a case even though he knows Dave well enough to understand the risks he takes. I wish the two of them could go off together somewhere pretty and isolated and enjoy each other, no work or distractions. But I know that however much he loves Cecil it just wouldn’t be enough for Dave. He’s still in the game whatever he says, and will be until he draws his final breath, hopefully in Cecil’s loving embrace many years away.