Several years ago, I wrote a feature about gay sleuths for the Sun Sentinel, the newspaper for which I worked for 29 years.
And this being Pride Month, it’s the perfect time to read these novels.
The following list is culled from my previous story and a list that author Greg Herren has been posting on Facebook page and on his blog. At the end of June, Herren plans to post his entire list.
George Baxt—Baxt apparently had the first openly gay male detective to be published by a major publisher, a character named Pharoah Love, who appeared in A Queer Kind of Death in 1966. After a string of novels, Love disappeared until he was brought back in 1994's A Queer Kind of Love after a 26-year hiatus. The Love series never really caught on. Baxt found more success writing historical mysteries involving celebrities or movie stars of the ’30s to ’50s.
John Copenhaver—his novel Dodging and Burning was one of the top debuts during 2018. A riveting look at life for gay men and lesbians during America’s post-WWII era, set in a small Virginia town and in the military. It is as much a coming-of-age story as it is a coming-out tale. Dodging and Burning has been nominated for four best first novel awards: the Anthony, the Strand Critics Award, the Lambda, and the Barry Award.
Robert W. Fieseler—chronicles a fire in a New Orleans gay bar that killed 32 people and its impact on the gay community in Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation, which won the 2019 Edgar Award for best fact crime and Lambda Literary's Judith A. Markowitz Award for Emerging LGBTQ Writers. It also was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal and Shelf Awareness.
Katherine V. Forrest—has written about homicide detective Kate Delafield since 1984.
Joseph Hansen—remains a touchstone in gay mysteries. His series about Dave Brandstetter debuted with Fadeout in 1970. A low-key insurance investigator, Brandstetter was a likable character who approached his work in a professional manner and had relationships with men. Before his last appearance in 1991's A Country of Old Men, Brandstetter had attracted a large cross-section of readers.
Ellen Hart—her traditional mysteries about lesbian restaurateur Jane Lawless and her smart-mouth best friend, Cordelia Thorn began in 1989. Her 30 years of involving stories has earned her myriad awards. She was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 2017.She will receive the Lifetime Achievement award from Malice Domestic during the 2020 convention.
Greg Herren—the prolific Herren has written multiple series, including the Scotty Bradley and the Chanse MacLeod novels set in his hometown of New Orleans and was the editor of the award-winning short story anthology Florida Happens: Tales of Mystery, Mayhem, and Suspense from the Sunshine State.
Val McDermid—launched her career with novels about journalist and Socialist Lindsay Gordon.
Michael Nava—his novels about attorney Henry Rios took on social issues while delivering solid plots and three-dimensional characters. Nava adapted the first Rios novel, Lay Your Sleeping Head, into an 18-episode podcast. Carved in Bone, the first new Rios novel is 20 years, will be published during the fall 2019.
Abigail Padgett—her series about social psychologist Blue McCarron began with Blue.
Neil Plakcy—writes two series: Golden Retriever Mysteries about a man whose lifeline is his dog, and the The Mahu Investigations about a gay police detective who lives in Hawaii.
J. M. Redmann—is a multiple Lambda winner, whose hard-drinking, hard-luck heroine Micky Knight set the standard for the hardboiled lesbian private eye.
Christopher Rice—his suspenseful thrillers have included insightful looks at gay soldiers, coming of age issues and terrorism.
John Morgan Wilson—became the first openly gay author writing about an openly gay detective to win an Edgar Award for best first novel in 1996 with Simple Justice. His character Benjamin Justice was a burned-out, disgraced former reporter turned private detective.
R.D. Zimmerman—began his career writing two non-gay series and creating mystery jigsaw puzzles until he created a new series with a gay private detective. Zimmerman, a Lambda Literary Award winner and two-time Edgar nominee, began that series with 1995's Closet, an award-winning paperback original about TV news reporter Todd Mills.
And here is a list of some novels, most of them courtesy Greg Herren:
Cobalt by Nathan Aldyne
Adrenaline by James Robert Baker
A Queer Kind of Death by George Baxt
Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite
Dodging and Burning by John Copenhaver
Eye Contact by Michael Craft
Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler (nonfiction)
Cottonmouths by Kelly Ford
Murder at the Nightwood Bar by Katherine V. Forrest
Fadeout by Joseph Hanson
Wicked Games by Ellen Hart
The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse by Keith Hartman
Garden District Gothic by Greg Herren
The Talented Mr. Ripley/Carol/Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Faked to Death by Dean James
The President's Son by Krandall Kraus
Brotherly Love by Randye Lordon
Blood Link by Claire McNab
A Body to Dye For by Grant Michaels
The Gold Diggers by Paul Monette
Lay Your Sleeping Head by Michael Nava
The Lure by Felice Picano
Mahu by Neil Plakcy
Intersection of Law and Desire by J. M. Redmann
A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice
I'll Be Leaving You Always by Sandra Scoppettone
Murder in the Collective by Barbara Wilson
Simple Justice by John Morgan Wilson
She Came by the Book by Mary Wings
Closet by R.D. Zimmerman
A Simple Suburban Murder by Mark Richard Zubro
Authors often base a character on a composite of people they know; some use just one individual and then fictionalize that person’s life.
And of course, names of real people often pop up in novels because they’ve bought the privilege of having their name used as a character.
Owen Laukkanen has a different approach in his latest novel, the superb Deception Cove.
He bases one character on someone he knows very well, and also uses her real name for the character.
In fact, he lives with her—his dog Lucy.
In Deception Cove, Laukkanen’s real-life Lucy becomes the fictionalized Lucy, a wonderful dog who is the center of the novel.
We have no doubt that the real Lucy is just as wonderful.
Deception Cove, the launch of a new series, does have human characters in it, too.
One of those characters is former Marine Jess Winslow who suffers from a severe case of PTSD. Lucy has been Jess’ only salvation. The dog can tell when Jess is about to have an attack or is having a nightmare and offer her comfort.
The other main human character is ex-convict Mason Burke, who trained Lucy while he was behind bars. This dog also was his saving grace.
Lucy gave both Jess and Mason hope for the future, something to believe in and a reason to get up. Lucy offered unconditional emotional healing.
When Lucy is in trouble—and, believe us, she is never harmed—Jess and Mason have a new goal and team up to save her.
Laukkanen describes the fictional Lucy as “a mutt, probably pit bull but not entirely; she had that square, blocky head and that big dumb pit smile when she panted, but her body was long and more lean than stocky. A boxer, maybe, or some kind of retriever. Her hair was short and fine jet black save a white shout and a stripe up her forehead, a patch on her neck and her belly, white socks on all four paws and another patch like paint on the tip of her tail. She was a rescue….”
That pretty much describes Laukkanen’s real Lucy, right down to her past as a rescue.
In the acknowledgement section in the back of Deception Cove, Laukkanen thanks the RainCoast Dog Rescue Society “for bringing the real Lucy into my life.”
Lucy was found in a California kill shelter “with only days left to live,” he writes.
She was “scooped up and brought to Canada and into my life, for which I’ll be forever grateful.
"RainCoast rescues and rehomes dogs from all over the world, and their work is in every sense a labor of love,” he adds.
For more information, or to donate as Laukkanen mentions, visit www.raincoastdogrescue.com.
And, of course, read Deception Cove, a terrific launch of a new series.