What a wonderful, wonderful surprise this story was!
You go in there thinking that you’ll read about a mystery and that’s about it. Indeed you do : what happened to Fox Olson? This is what it is about.
But as the story goes, and the insurance detective Dave Brandstetter worms his way into homes and lives, you discover that you’re reading about people. People who didn’t write the books they ought to have written, who didn’t live the life they ought to have lived, who did their best or worst, made mistakes, went along with the flow or tried to swim against the current, who were, are aiming at happiness – whatever this word means to them. What of them all? That’s what it is about too.
All those lives and their own stakes weave a tangled web Dave has to untangle to find the truth. And we’re back to the mystery. You may think you have things figured out way before the end, but the development keeps a few twists and turns in store. Many suspects, many motives, but who did act on them? Did anyone act on them?
Now, what about Dave Brandstetter? He is a clever detective and a decent man. He is also mourning the death of his long time partner; hurting and full of regrets, but moving through grief, straightening up and looking ahead. Beyond cleverness and decency, I like how lucid and healthy he is. Just like this story is, despite its undeniable bittersweet flavour. And that’s just the thing : it reflects human weaknesses, struggles, highs and lows, but it is not wallowing in self-pitying angst. Yet, how moving it is at times!
In the same way, it is about a gay character, and it doesn’t make a fuss about it. The cherry on the cake is to read in 2014 this book that was first released in 1970, and try to grasp the casual audacity Joseph Hansen showed in writing a gay MC back then, making it sound nonetheless like he is saying : “Dave Brandstetter is my main character and he is gay. So what?! I have a story to tell, let’s get to it.” Hansen’s style is economical, deceptively simple; the sentences are short, the prose is anything but over-the-top. The story development is efficient and smart, the pace doesn’t falter, the carefully chosen words ring loud and clear, and strike home. The whole is a beautiful piece of craft.
Don’t go there looking for a romance. The ending hints at something that may be developed in the sequel, but Dave is not quite there yet. That doesn’t mean that you will not read about love, though. As a matter of fact, I'll quote Dave quoting poetry to conclude :
“The weight of the world is love. Under the burden of solitude, under the burden of dissatisfaction, the weight, the weight we carry is love.”