Way-heeeeeyyyyy and welcome to the hairiest book blog this side of Yetisville, where, I am led to believe, there is an even hairier book blogger. Mind you, Yetis are not really known for their literacy and reading skills so I don’t think I have anything to worry about. But, in the spirit of inclusiveness, I wish them all the very best.
Today is the 14th day of #Fahrenbruary which just happens to be Valentine’s Day, or Fahrentine’s Day, if you will.
Haha, Fahrentine’s Day? Geddit? Fahrentine? It’s a mix of Fahrenheit and Valen… No? No-one? Oh come on! *sigh* Ok, maybe that’s a Fahrenpun too far. Be like that then *sulks*
Okay, sulk over.
Now, Beardy Fact Fans, Fahrenbruary (or, to give it its old, boring name, February), is also LGBT History Month; a month long series of events that looks at the history of, promotes awareness of and acceptance towards, the LGBT community. It is also a celebration of all things Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, with events up, down and across the country, in schools, colleges, Universities, libraries, the local bakers, the putting green, roller rink, jumble sales, tiddly-winks tournaments, retirement homes; you name it it’s there, anywhere and everywhere.
In this spirit, Derek has written a post where he discusses his favourite Queer Crime reads, and his reasons for choosing them. There’s some great sounding books and authors in here, none of which, I’m ashamed to say, I have read (though I do have Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr Ripley” on my shelf as I love the film and the book was begging me to buy it in my local bookshop. Would’ve been rude not too, wouldn’t it?). I will hang my beard in shame, but after reading Derek’s post I fully intend to look into these further and I shall lift my beard once more.
Derek is of course the author of his own Queer Crime series: the sublime and wonderful Danny Bird mysteries (Death Of A Diva; Death Of A Nobody; Death Of A Devil and the soon to be released Death Of An Angel), all published by Fahrenheit Press. Danny comes home one day to find his boyfriend shacked up with the window cleaner (no, seriously). He turns around and leaves, and in the process leaves his old life behind, losing everything that he knew and had worked hard for. A sheer coincidence leads him to the Marquess Of Queensbury pub in South London, where he spontaneously applies for the bar manager vacancy, and lo and behold, he finds himself with a pub. Sadly this pub is also owned by the local crime lord “Chopper” Falzone, which is a shame. This is just the start of Danny’s problems. Of course, you’ll have to read the books to find out what those problems are 😉
Anyway, that’s quite enough of my prattling and general guffery. So, without further ado, or further adon’t, I’ll hand over to Derek.
Enjoy 🏳️🌈 TBBB. X
So not only is this month Fahrenbruary, a celebration of all things Fahrenheit Press, but it’s also LGBTQ History month, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to share my (entirely subjective) selection of my favourite Queer Crime reads.
Right from the beginning, Queer people have written, read and enjoyed Crime fiction. But as protagonists, Queer people, in the early days of the genre, were woefully under represented, partly because of societal stigma and partly because the focus was on the hyper macho lone wolf, and there was no place, seemingly for a hyper macho lone wolf who happened to like other wolves (although, again, see below for the exceptions to that rule).
The situation today has improved, though not to the extent that one might, perhaps like. Many writers of fiction about or featuring Queer characters have only achieved commercial success when they moved on to deliberately writing about Straight characters while others (see, for example, Mari Hannah, below) have received multiple rejections for books featuring Queer protagonists, the usual explanation that these books simply aren’t commercial being exploded by the subsequent huge commercial and critical success that came Hannah’s way when the books finally found a publisher (and a marketing budget).
There’s still, frankly, work to do, but for now the books I write are hopefully adding to the pile of works that aren’t afraid to say that Queer people (a) exist and (b) don’t always have to be the dismembered corpse in a cold flat; that we can be the protagonists of our own stories and not simply the inciting events of others’ and (c) that we can tell stories set in the wider world, where we live side-by-side with the rest of humanity (and not solely next to the maps and the self-help books in the LGBTQ section in Waterstones).
The Danny Bird mysteries are deliberately about queer people in a wider millieu. I wanted them to be about London – all the colours, tastes, and proclivities of London – and I hope I captured some of the wonderful diversity in the city.
Like all artists, I’m influenced and inspired not just by the real world but by the artistic worlds that precede my work, so I thought I’d share some of the books that have filled my shelves, my heart and my spirit over the years.
The classic you need to read: “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde: There’s murder, corruption, implicit sex all over the shop and the most vivid and beautiful description of crossing London in the early hours of a Summer morning having left a club you’ve spent the night in. I’ve read this (im)morality play multiple times, and always find something new in it. Sometimes I root for Dorian, others I despise him. And that – in my eyes – makes it both a classic and (possibly) the first ever Queer Crime Novel.
The Hardboiled Gay Gumshoe: The Dave Brandstetter series by Joseph Hansen were groundbreaking, and not just because Wikipedia says so. I discovered a now out of print No Exit Press edition of the first book in a now defunct remaindered shop on Charing Cross road some time in the early 90s and brought it home, drawn (I’ll admit) by the rather fetching young male model on the cover). And the scales fell from mine eyes. Here was a crime novel in the Chandler style, with a detective who held a secret pain (secret pain was de rigeur in Noir at that time. That or world-weary ennui) and who was a match in every way for the gumshoes created by Hammett and Spillane (without, perhaps, much of the misogyny of the latter) but who just happened to be gay. And he was sexy AF. And he solved crimes. And I was in love. I purchased the rest of the series a week later, and they are still on my bookshelf (and are in the process of going onto my Kindle). But what are they actually about, Derek? I’m glad you asked: They’re set, ostensibly, in an always dazzlingly bright Southern California, but in reality their purpose is to pick at the gilding and expose the worm-ridden wood beneath. The time period covered is the years between the early seventies and the early nineties. Brandstetter is an insurance investigator who in the course of his work for the insurance company his father runs comes up against threads that don’t quite weave together and – like the best of Gumshoes – Dave can’t help but pull at the threads, and see where they lead…
The time period covered is a hugely important one for the Gay community, taking in the burgeoning Gay rights movement, the golden years of the late seventies and early eighties, and the AIDS crisis, and Hansen weaves the societal changes into the novels and makes them not only great crime stories, but great chronicles of a time passed.
The one with the drug smuggler you actually root for: “Snare” by Lilja Sigurðardottir. After a messy divorce, attractive young mother Sonia is struggling to provide for herself and keep custody of her son. With her back to the wall, she resorts to smuggling cocaine into Iceland, and finds herself caught up in a ruthless criminal world. As she desperately looks for a way out of trouble, she must pit her wits against her nemesis, Bragi, a customs officer, whose years of experience frustrate her new and evermore daring strategies.Things become even more complicated when Sonia embarks on a relationship with a woman, Agla. Once a high-level bank executive, Agla is currently being prosecuted in the aftermath the Icelandic financial crash. “Snare” is one of those classic “good people caught up in bad things” books (see also “The count of Monte Cristo”) and is a proper page-turner that leads you to a denouement that is shocking and satisfying, and rest of the trilogy (#2 – “Trap” – is already out, and I am gripped by it with #3 due soon) are as highly recommended as the first.
The One that got me kicked off a bus: “Blue Heaven” by Joe Keenan. This may well be my favourite book of all time. It’s set in NYC at the end of the eighties. It’s filled with deranged excess and insane characters. And it made me laugh so much and so hard that a bus driver once pulled over and – convinced I had to be on drugs, else how to explain my hysteria – ordered me off his bus. Reader, I was so desperate to finish the chapter I got off and sat in the bus shelter til I’d done the whole thing. The plot centres on fraud: The notoriously homosexual Gilbert announces his intention to marry the equally notoriously vile Moira (the two being up til now sworn enemies) and Gilbert’s best friend (and former lover) Philip Cavanaugh is dragged into the plot to convince everyone that Gilbert’s screaming Gayness was “Just a phase,” and that he really has gone straight. The reason? The wedding presents, of course. Gilbert and Moira have noticed that Gil’s stepfather’s family hand out huge cash wedding gifts. What neither Gilbert nor Moira have twigged, of course – and what Phillip eventually realises when the trio are already knee deep in the plot – is that the stepfather and his family are full blooded Mafia. And the mafia does not take kindly to being defrauded. Cue insanity, plot twists, profanity, hilarity and a book I guarantee you will not be able to put down. Keenan is one of my heroes for this book alone, but his other work (including a couple of decades on Frasier) makes him even more Godlike in my eyes. When I grow up, I’d love to write a book even half as good as Blue Heaven.
The Ones with the morally fluid and sexually ambivalent protagonist : The Ripliad by Patricia Highsmith. You know these ones, right? The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley Under Ground, Ripley’s Game, The Boy Who Followed Ripley, and Ripley Under Water, published between 1955 and 1991—are referred to collectively as the Ripliad. And they feature the wonderfully sociopathic Tom Ripley, who’s part conman, part hedonist and part serial killer. Basically, if Hannibal Lecter had a cuter younger brother who wasn’t sold on the cannibalism. Even Highsmith was quoted, in 1968, as saying “I don’t think Ripley is gay. He appreciates good looks in other men, that’s true. But he’s married in later books. I’m not saying he’s very strong in the sex department. But he makes it in bed with his wife.” But even those words from his creator haven’t stopped readers falling in love with Tom and perhaps to an extent projecting their desires on to the character. Which makes him, possibly, the queerest conman / hedonist / part serial killer in literature.
The ones that beat the system: The Kate Daniels Series by Mari Hannah. Mari Hannah has discussed how difficult it was for her to receive so many compliments on the first in this series even as every editor and agent in town turned it down, and how hard it was for her to avoid the feeling that the rejections were caused by the fact she had a Lesbian cop as her protagonist, and one who was perfectly happy in her sexuality (albeit conflicted romantically by her inability to stop loving her ex-partner) and really good at her job. Seeing these books eventually find an agent who believed in them, a publisher who wanted to publish them to the mainstream, and a marketing department with the vision to make them take off, sell in massive amounts and become regular fixtures in the Bestseller lists is a very good thing for the rest of us who like our crime to reflect the real world in all its brilliant diversity.
The one that moved Queer Crime into the Mainstream: “The Lure” by Felice Picano. Inspired by a still unsolved series of murders of gay entrepreneurs in New York in the early 70’s, Picano’s undercover novel was a massive success at the time it was published, and might be said to have propelled The Gay Novel from a self-focussed literary device to one which wove the Gay world through the tapestry of the city as a whole and thus – because it more accurately reflected the reality of the times – moved Gay fiction out of an artistic and academic ghetto and towards the mainstream. It’s also a damn good yarn, which inspired Stephen King to note that “Felice Picano has taken the psychological thriller as far as it can go,” and which helped make it a global runaway success.
The one that Hitchcock filmed and which inspired half the best sellers list: “Rear Window” by Cornell Woolrich. The story (originally published as “It had to be Murder”) of a man who witnesses something at first seemingly innocuous but who begins – as he begins to try to understand the action in context of events prior to and post – to suspect that what he’s witnessed is a murder has inspired everyone from Hitchcock to Christie, and on today to such works as The Girl on the Train, and The Woman in the Window. Sadly, Woolrich’s life was not a happy one, his struggles with his sexuality and his despair at the death of his mother resulting in a tragic end, and shortening a career that produced some of the most wonderfully dark Noir writing of the period,
There are a host of Queer writers and Queer focussed books I’d add for anyone who really wants to dig into the genre: Some current American authors I enjoy are J.M. Redmann (MIcky Knight series) and Greg Herren, who writes wonderfully Gothic and sexy crime. Also worth looking up is Katherine Forrest, who’s been described as the original American lesbian crime fiction author. Closer to home, Charlie Cochrane writes brilliant Victorians set in Cambridge and featuring the dashing Jonty Stewart and the brilliant Orlando Coppersmith, and the names alone are enough to make me want to pick up the books which are a blend of cozy romance and Queer Crime.
So, those are my bookshelf picks. What have I missed? What should I be reading next? Are there any books on here you adored even more than me? I’d love to hear what you think. You can find me on Twitter (@derekifarrell) or Facebook, or via my website derekfarrell.co.uk
Massive and warm snuggly thanks to Derek for taking the time to write this post for #Fahrenbruary for me.
You can buy Derek’s books (Death Of A Diva; Death Of A Nobody; Death Of A Devil) direct from Fahrenheit Press at the links below:
Derek’s new book, Death Of An Angel, will be released on the 28th of Fahrenbruary. Pre-order it NOW! 🖤