On the second friday of each month, we like to feature LGBT Literature of the past. This week Ulysses talks to use about Joseph Hansen’s Brandstetter Mysteries. There is also a giveaway, so stay tuned for that.
Joseph Hansen, the Brandstetter Mysteries
Joseph Hansen is without question the Raymond Chandler of gay literature, and his dozen Brandstetter mysteries were formative literature in my gay youth. Hansen published the first mystery featuring Dave Brandstetter, Fadeout, in 1970. The last of the series was Country of Old Men, published in 1991.
I discovered Dave Brandstetter in 1982, when I was 27. In that year I read all six of the novels published up to that date, and continued to follow each new volume as it appeared. I always went into the Oscar Wilde book store in Greenwich Village to pick up the latest volume.
It’s hard to fathom the impact in the gay world that a character like Dave Brandstetter had in 1970. Here was a big masculine guy. But classy, like James Bond without the British effeteness. Brandstetter was a high-level insurance investigator in Los Angeles. He’d fought in World War II. He had a rich father who was frequently married, amiable but distant. Brandstetter drove a Jaguar and lived in a glamorous (although not pretentious) house high up in one of the fashionable LA canyons. And he was gay, openly and comfortably.
He was also damaged goods. When the series begins, Dave is depressed and lonely, struggling to get over the death of his longtime lover, Rod Fleming. A successful decorator, Rod was in every way the opposite of Dave; slender, younger, effeminate—the archetypal LA style queen. But, oddly enough, Rod was June to his Ward, and his death from cancer has left Dave gutted. The only reason he hasn’t killed himself is because of the happy memories he has of their twenty years together. We only meet Rod in flashbacks, but his role in Dave’s life is unquestioned.
This, for a young gay man in a five-year relationship, was the stunning thing about Dave Brandstetter. He was a smart, suit-wearing middle-aged professional, and he’d lived with, and loved another man for twenty years—in 1967! He was proof to me and my lover (now husband) that what we wanted was possible. And he was cool without being a super hero.
Of course, much of this must have been only semi-conscious on my part. I loved these books because Hansen was a wonderful writer in the detective tradition. All of the things I love about the best of the m/m writers today were in place in Hansen’s books: strong characters, beautifully crafted writing, vivid sense of place. His books, none of them very long, were compelling page-turners, just as a good detective story needs to be.
To make it better, the reader got to see the grieving Brandstetter evolve. We watched him begin to heal, sometimes aided by one or another of his father’s ex-wives, or other folks who knew him as part of a couple and understand what he’s going through. Even more significantly, as the series progresses, Brandstetter falls in love again, this time with a much younger black television reporter named Cecil Harris. In the final books of the series, Dave and Cecil become a team, much as he and Rod Fleming had been a team—mismatched but perfectly suited to each other.
For all the hard-boiled detective stories, ultimately these books were about love and its power to shape the human soul. Dave Brandstetter is who he is because of the love of his life, and his ethos as a detective has been shaped by that love. He is no banner waver, no marcher in parades, but he is relentless in his quest for justice.
In the last book, when AIDS has appeared and wreaked its havoc in the gay community, Cecil says to Dave: “But with so many dying, we better love each other for real, and all we can –we’re so lucky to have the chance.” This underlying message infuses all these books with a power that meant the world to me when I was young. As I approach sixty, they mean even more, because they shaped my view of the gay world.
Joseph Hansen himself was an interesting character. He was a gay man who married a lesbian and lived with her for many years, having a child with her. Today, I guess I’d say they were both bisexuals who fell in love with someone of the opposite sex—and yet both of them claimed their gay selves. This sets Hansen outside the mainstream, and yet, to me, makes him a figure to be admired and even revered. He lived a life of personal integrity and succeeded, as a man and a writer, long before most of us imagined it was possible.
All of the Brandstetter books are now available in print and on Kindle. Read them.
Death Claims (1973)
The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of (1978)
The Little Dog Laughed (1986)
Early Graves (1987)
The Boy Who Was Buried This Morning (1990)
A Country of Old Men (1991)
From the Publisher:
Joseph Hansen’s highly successful mystery series which kicked off in 1970 with the publication of “Fadeout”, featured one of the genre’s first openly homosexual investigators, Dave Brandstetter. Like other fictional sleuths, such as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe or Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, Hansen’s middle-aged protagonist is tough, smart and self-assured. ‘My joke,’ Hansen said, ‘was to take the true hard-boiled character in the American fiction tradition and make him homosexual. He was going to be a nice man, a good man, and he was doing to do his job well.’ Hansen’s series, which continued until 1991 with “A Country Of Old Men”, was set in an evocative 70’s and 80’s Southern California, particularly Los Angeles, for which he received high praise. “The LA Times” said Hansen had presented Brandstetter’s ‘loves, jealousies and betrayals with both candour and discretion…and never-exploitive honesty.’ Throughout the course of the series Brandstetter ages physically and grows emotionally as he comes to terms with the turmoil of his personal relationships. Now all 12 Dave Brandstetter novels are brought together in one volume: “The Complete Brandstetter”.
Prism Book Alliance has kindly offered a $10 Amazon giftcard to 1 lucky commenter.
Contest ends 14 May @ 11:59pm CST. Must be 18 or older to win. Void where prohibited.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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