Fadeout, Joseph Hansen
It’s been a while since I read these, and when I noticed they’re now available for Kindle, I kind of fell upon them. Hansen’s writing is really readable: something like the economy of Chandler, and the turn of phrase, but somehow more streamlined and quick to read. And somewhat less problematic in terms of the representation, since we have a gay detective and generally more up to date models of how people interact and what women are capable of, etc. I can’t recall any exact examples where I wasn’t comfortable, though I think the handling of the Japanese pool boy incident felt a bit off, and maybe some other references to racial issues.
The main character — Dave — is completely unstereotyped. He misses his partner, whom he loved, and he’s not ashamed of that fact — and okay, his partner was a bit of a cliché and rather camp, but the point is that there are a lot of gay people in these books, and they’re all different. They have different interests and different ideas about how to live their lives. Dave is comfortable with himself, and not compensating either — he doesn’t mind people knowing he’s gay, he doesn’t overcompensate, etc. He’s just himself and lets people take him as they find him — and finding a character like that in a mystery novel that otherwise feels pretty hardboiled is a lovely thing.
The plot itself is convoluted, of course, and it’s amazing how Dave’s cases always manage to be about gay people. If you’re straight, apparently you don’t get life insurance from Dave’s dad’s company? Or if you do, your death isn’t investigated by Dave? Of course, all the cases where Dave signs off on it without lengthy investigation aren’t mentioned either, so… Perhaps it’s just that Hansen was interested in how a gay detective made his way in that societal climate, and how being gay affected how people treated you, and how gay people interacted.
I love the series, personally; it’s really easy to read, but there’s depth here (like Dave’s grief for Rod, and in later books, his relationships with other men) and I have no doubt I’ll come back to Dave again in the future. (As I type this, I’ve already gone on to reread the second and third books, as well.) If there is a flaw, it’s perhaps that (at least at this point), I’m more focused on Dave and the whole fact of gay representation in hardboiled crime fiction, and much less on the actual mystery. On the other hand, I focus more on Chandler’s prose than his plot, too, so there’s that.