Troublemaker - Joseph Hansen
(The third Dave Brandstetter Novel)
This is the third in the Dave Brandstetter series, which was begun with Fadeout and continued with Death Claims.
Dave is an insurance investigator with Medallion Life, a company owned by his father. In Fadeout, Dave was only just back to work after the tragedy of losing his 20-year partner Rob. At the end of the book he meets a new man, Doug, who resembles Rob physically.† In Death Claims heís still with Doug, but the relationship is increasingly rocky. Dave wants it to work though, and he agrees to move out of the house he and Rob shared and which is too cloying for Doug.
Troublemaker starts with them in their new homeóan apartment over a gallery for Doug. Itís not made a great deal of, but Dave has given up everything to make this work, but already thereís trouble on the horizon in the shape of a young sculptor who seems to want to make Dave and Dougís relationship a threesome.
Professionally, Dave is working on a very difficult case. It appears open and shut, in that a man is found shot, naked, with a young (also naked) man standing over him holding the gun. Of course, this is Brandstetter, and before heíll pay the mother of the victim her insurance money, he has to prove the murder was as it appears.
The novel is intensely steeped in gay culture, in that all the men are gay, but thereís nothing sexual in it at all. I canít help but compare these novels to the Donald Strachey series, and I have to say, I do prefer Donald. Dave Brandstetter is just a little bit too reserved (cold fish sometimes springs to mind, which is really unfair, as heís not, but you really have to work hard to see the intense man behind the stand-offish mask) to really get into his head. Of course, these novels are all 3rd person, whilst Donald tells his own story. You have to work harder with Brandstetter, and even then you donít get quite the same buzz. However, they are really good crime novels and well worth reading. There are wonderful historical gay elements: itís all pre-HIV, for a start. In one scene, Dave is having a drink with his father, who has been married 11 times. The old man muses on his death (having just had a bad heart check-up), and tells Dave that heíd better plan on going freelance because the board will sack him immediately (for being gay). He even goes as far as to say, ďyouíd better give it upĒ as if Daveís homosexuality were like one of his fatherís whiskies: something you can just put down when youíve had enough. Itís an understated scene, but all the more moving for that.
Do give these books a go if you like crime novels that are subtle and well-crafted.
Heather Wendell found son Richard lying naked in a pool of blood in the guesthouse, up a canyon above a Californian coastal town.† Larry Johns, a young blond hustler, was standing over him, also nude, wiping a gun.† It looks like an open & shut case.† Until Medallion Insurance investigator Dave Brandstetter starts asking awkward questions.†
Larry claims he and Rick were in bed together when the victim heard a noise and went to investigate.† Johns heard voices, and a shot.† When he came out of the bedroom, Rick was on the floor.† Larry realised his mistake picking up the murder weapon.† Dazed, he was about to grab clothes and run, but Heather walked in while he was cleaning his prints off the revolver.†
Dave queries robbery as the motive.† Rickís wallet full of cash was left undisturbed.† And the front door was lying open.† Given what Larry and Rick were doing, theyíd have wanted privacy.†
Heatherís alibi, that she was at the movie theatre, doesnít hold up as no one recalls seeing her there.† She was totally dependant on Rickís financial support and he never denied his mother anything.† A paltry $25,000 insurance claim isnít enough to justify murder.
Nothing about the case adds up.† But Dave is a rottweiler with a quiet manner that persuades people to trust him.† Why did Larry Johns ask Rick for $1,500?† Who was the cowboy who threatened Larry just before Rick picked him up and took him home?† What happened to the missing money?† And why was Ace Keegan, Rickís partner in the Hang Ten gay bar, seen having dinner with Heather Wendell the night of the murder?
Insider knowledge of gay life gives Dave an advantage. In the 70s men went to prison for free expression of gay love, and Daveís father says the Medallion board will fire him after his death.† Dave understands loveís demands and complexity and never accepts easy answers.† The cynicism and detachment that make him such an efficient investigator isnít so good for his relationships.† His father has had 9 wives:† what did that do to the boy with a revolving door succession of step-mothers?
Dave and partner Doug have moved out of the home Dave shared with dead lover Rod, to an apartment over Dougís new studio.† But Kovacs, a pushy potter who fancies a threesome, has installed himself there too. †Dave recognises a pattern in Dougís need of hangers-on, reaction to feeling lonely and neglected because Daveís work comes first.† At a crucial moment in the case Doug needs Dave and he lets him down.†
This tense detective thriller exposes good and bad in the human heart.† Again, itís Dave Brandstetter whoís the most interesting character.† Maybe Iím wrong, but I doubt Doug is his Timmy.† Right now theyíre together but thereís little intimacy, less joy.† They hardly talk, and thereís no sign of any loving.†† Dave knows itís not working.† I feel sad for them both.† Daveís emotional difficulties add depth to murder mystery.† Highly recommended.
Published by No Exit Press. ISBN: 1874061653