Every so often I see something – usually a post on Facebook or a blog – that reminds me of a gap in my reading experience that I need to fill. This week’s recommendation is just such a book – one that I’ve been intending to read for several years but it’s so old that there isn’t a digital version of it.
Anyhow, last week I was reading posts and spotted the name Brandstetter, and that reminded me to visit Amazon and look at the author page For Joseph Hansen.
A few days later my copy of The Complete Brandstetter, all 12 novels in one book, arrived and now I am 3 novels into it, I am completely blown away by it and am ruining my eyesight! The print is miniscule but SO worth reading.
The more I’ve learned about these books the more impressed I am. Dave Brandstetter is the typical hard boiled PI. Ex-military, strong minded, intelligent, hard working and determined at all costs to discover the truth. So far so standard, but Joseph Hansen also made him gay. Remember, Hansen was writing these stories at the end of the sixties long before Stonewall. The story cycle begins with Dave working hard to take his mind off his grief, having lost his partner, Rod, to cancer. Their relationship is revisited frequently during the stories, their ups and downs, pleasures and pains, because Dave and Rod were very different characters with different enthusiasms that often clashed, but their mutual love was plain to see. This very positive depiction of a gay relationship was groundbreaking for the time and also for the type of book. Hansen went on record as saying that with Dave Brandstetter he intended not just to write a gay protagonist but one who was a decent, kind man who was good at his job. In fact Dave isn’t actually a PI but an insurance investigator in the life insurance division, checking up on suspicious deaths. Most books have two or three strands – the investigation of the death, plus the lives of the gay men Dave encounters during his work, plus Dave’s own complicated love life. Some threads continue from book to book, others are drawn to a satisfying if not always happy conclusion.
Another BIG plus is the language. Raymond Chandler set the bar high and we expect poetry from our noir heroes. Hansen rises to the challenge but not in an obvious, overdone or parodic fashion. Most of the prose is neat and laconic, but there are occasional phrases that leap off the page. A description of a water wheel:
Moss bearded the paddles, which dripped as they rose. The sounds were good. Wooden stutter like children running down a hall at the end of school. Grudging axle thud like the heartbeat of a strong old man.
Another regarding Dave’s bed:
… he’d have bought whatever the clerk showed him, that particular clerk, a small, dark effeminate boy whose name had been Rod Fleming and with whom he’d slept in that absurd bed – barring times of illness, anger, absence – every night since. Till death did them part. That Lorant might have put his stranger’s nakedness into that bed last night made Dave’s fists tighten.
So very highly recommended but I advise you to get the novels one at a time rather than the omnibus edition. I’m coping with the teeny print because I’m very short sighted but even so I’m rationing my reading to an hour a day.