Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Joseph Hansen, pioneering Gay mystery author extraordinaire

I was deeply saddened to read the other day that Joseph Hansen had died at the age of 82.

For gay men who like to read fiction, Joseph Hansen set the standards for gay fiction. His character, Dave Brandstetter, was an insurance claims investigator, who was a tough as nails sluth in the Mickey Hammer and Philip Marlowe tradition.

Joseph created the perfect character, who was gay, but it didn't rule his life. Being gay made him a better investigator and a better man. His character, quoting The Times, "was unapologetically gat at a liberation that was really in its infacy in terms of post-Stonewall politics."

I admired Joseph Hansen for not creating a swishy character, but one with a soul and a personal life. He would "dump" on his partner the day's events, and could always fall back on his support during difficult times as he solved a particular case. The dialog was meaningful and robust. He is never annoyed as his partner nags him to retire and give up cigarettes.

He has influenced such gay mystery writers as John Morgan Wilson and Michael Nava. They both picked up on the fact that in Dave Brandstetter, Joseph created a character with a moral backbone who was a professional in the truest sense of the word.

Though the series ended in 1991 with " A Country of Old Men", I have continued to reread his works. The series started with "Fadeout" and "Early Graves" Both "Early Graves" and "A Country of Old Men" dealt with AIDS. Both are moving books and should be read for both their pure who dunnit appeal and as a chronology of AIDS at that time from the viewpoint of a middle aged gay man.

I will miss Joseph Hansen. He was an old, dear friend, though I never had the chance to meet him. I wish him all the best in his new life after death. May his body of work continue to influence new generations of gay men who enjoy reading a good mystery where the hero is an ordinary gay guy like you and me.

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