Tounge Tied - Richard Stevenson
A Donald Strachey Mystery #8
Strachey is on fine form in this, the last in the series, novel. My mission in life now is to convince Richard Stevenson that he needs to write a prequal: Don, the desperately unhappy married man, trapped in his heterosexual marriage but needing to break free meets Timmy, the Jesuit-educated man overcoming his upbringing to be openly gay. I understand that Stevenson felt he’d gone as far as he could go with this series. The characters must be in their late 50s, if not early 60s in this novel, although that’s never mentioned, and it’s sort of hazily unclear when it is set. Don wasn’t a spring chicken in the first of the series, when he and Timmy weren’t even living together. Now they’ve been together over 20 years, but their delight in (and exasperation with) each other hasn’t diminished. So, isn’t the series crying out for some earlier storyline?
This story is reminiscent of the earlier novels: less huge political intrigue and more intimate issues to do with gay rights and gay activists. In a stroke of genius, the author actually returns to some of the characters of the first novel: the FFF (Free Forces of Faggotry) who were the “heroes/villains” of the first story. Then, twenty years earlier, they were freeing young homosexuals from the institutions where they were sent to be “re-educated”. Now it seems that they are kidnapping and mutilating right-wing radio DJs who openly promote homophobia on their show.
Something has gone badly wrong: either the FFF have become corrupted from their ideals or someone is taking their name in vain.
Don is hired by the very right-wing homophobic people being threatened to solve the mystery. He’s not too happy with his clients, but work is work. Still, he’s just about to turn the job down and return to some tlc from Timmy when the delightful Thad appears on the scene: a FFF activist from the 70s, now a farmer, who wants to help clear the name of the organisation he was proud to serve. Thad, of all delightful things, is Amish. Can you imagine a worse thing to be and discover you are gay? His story is lovely, and there’s a real chemistry between him and Don.
Highly recommended. Read the whole series and Don and Timmy will be as alive for you as people you actually know. I’ll miss these novels dreadfully.
Post-script: Richard Stevenson is considering another in the series! Sparked by the interest generated by the new films, he’s dug Don and Timmy out of cosy retirement! Watch this space….
Second Post-script (isn’t this exciting?) The first in the TV series is made! Click here to view the trailer. It looks dark, almost cinema-noir with a grainy, sepia feel reminiscent of the X-files at its best. This is really going to be something to treasure. Do read the books before you catch the series though!
This last- for the moment- in Stevenson’s Strachey series is entertaining. A classic case for the Albany PI, set in N.Y.C., with Timothy Callahan back at home, mostly, safe & sound. However despite that there’s lots of personal stuff, because an old friend of Don’s makes a welcome return.
Lyle Barner, hunky closeted former Albany but now NYPD detective, once saved Strachey’s neck so Don owes him a favour. Which is just about the only reason he’s prepared to take on as a client repellent radio shock-jock Jay Plankton (Lol) whose homophobic, misogynistic, antiPC talk show has been the target for some crude pranksters using the good name of the Forces of Free Faggotry, a 70s gay activist group of idealists.
Now if you’ve been following this excellent series, that name, along with Lyle’s, should ring a bell. Don got involved with the FFF in 1979, 20 years earlier, when he and Timmy were beginning to get serious, though extracurricular sex wasn’t off the menu at least not with Don. The FFF rescued young gay people from the institutions where parents put them to ‘cure’ their homosexuality. Don met Lyle when working on the case of Billy Blount, a victim of this forced incarceration. Lyle wants Don on the case, he says, for his knowledge and ability as an out gay man to act as go-between and do the necessary research Barner dare not risk for fear of exposure. Plus ça change…
There’s the added interest of gay Amish character, Thad Diefendorfer, former FFF member now a farmer, who gets goosebumps and a trembling hand whenever he wants sex. Not that Timmy’s official spouse-figure has ANY intention getting groiny with either Thad or Lyle Brander, though he’s attracted to them both, and they to him. Playful flirtation, oodles of sexual tension and wishful thinking along the lines of sweaty doubles, threesomes and four-ways, is as far as it goes. Thad has a partner back on the eggplant farm and Lyle has the hots for a studly young cop. Don, of course, has long since settled down to happy monogamy. Something poor Lyle can’t quite get his head around.
Serious issues, like the treatment of openly gay cops and the way hetero males are so threatened by gay men (especially those like Don who don’t look the part) they have to behave like bigoted arseholes, emerge naturally from the story.
It’s good too that there’s fair balance. The Amish for example respected Thad for the way he helped others, and it wasn’t his parents but those of non-Amish boyfriend Ronnie who locked their son away when their affair was discovered. Thad hasn’t rejected traditional ways, preferring to use selected aspects of modern life and the spirit of the Amish community, though he lives with another man and a lesbian couple for whom they’ve both fathered children.
It’s J-Bird and his radio station chasing ratings by pandering to angry white males for increased profit who are the real villains, not angry and resentful gays taking revenge by illegal methods. Both Don and Thad want to skewer J-Bird and clear the FFF, for old time’s sake.
Any book that references The Lavender Hill Mob and uses the word ‘discombobulated’ gets my vote. Then there’s the truly inspired Berkshire Woolly Llama Cheese, but you’ll have to read the novel for details.
I wonder how Don, who thinks the prospect of George W Bush defeating Al Gore in the forthcoming presidential election a laughably unlikely prospect, feels about today’s state of affairs, George W. re-elected, and forces of reaction, intolerance and hate everywhere resurgent? We NEED more Don & Timothy. Apart from anything, where else do we have such a realistic, romantic yet unsentimental portrayal of a long-term gay partnership? Older men need to be represented!
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