A Queer Eye for the New Eyes

Essay by Josh Lanyon

Josh Lanyon, award-winning author of the Adrien English mysteries series, turns a queer eye on the P.I.. -- the old, the new, and the up-and-coming in gay crime fiction.

The gay mystery genre is alive and kicking down doors thanks to three powerful and not entirely unconnected forces: digital publishing, self-publishing and male/male romance.

Things were looking pretty bleak back at the beginning of the Millennium. Minotaur's Stonewall Inn closed its doors and Alyson was foundering. Three quarters of the indie presses listed in my tattered copy of Putting Out were defunct. But then ebooks and self-publishing arrived and, say what you will about their contribution to the decline of Western Civilization, niche fiction -- including gay fiction -- got a whole new lease on life. Not to mention a generous share of the reading market.

For gay fiction, it's been a two-edged sword. With the digital presses came the legitimization of Male/Male Romance. M/M is rooted in slash fan fiction, which means suddenly more women are writing more romances and mysteries featuring gay men than gay men are. With mixed results. But whether you're pleased or displeased by the new publishing paradigm, the reality is gay fiction is enjoying a resurgence, and today there are more people reading gay mystery than ever before.

As in mainstream mystery, the genre is flooded with amateur sleuths: everyone from Oscar Wilde teaming up with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to investigate sordid murders in Ye Olde London Town, to nameless, kick-boxing Turkish drag queens snooping into the slayings of transvestites in modern Istanbul. But there are plenty of stories about professional sleuths to enjoy as well. In fact, a number of old favorites like Greg Herren and Richard Stevenson are still turning out regular installments of their popular and long-running series.

Leaving aside those P.I.'s with paranormal, psychic or preternatural sexual abilities, here's a sampling of what's currently available:

Jack Ricardo returns with Desperate Innocence. Private investigator Jim Holden (last seen in 1991's Death with Dignity) is hired by a gay church to investigate the murder of a young boy in Fort Lauderdale.

Wisecracking Albany P.I. Donald Strachey and the debonair, ever charming Timmy return for their eleventh adventure in Richard Stevenson's long-running Lambda-winning series. In The Last Thing I Saw, a celebrity journalist vanishes while investigating a gay media conglomerate. Strachey investigates with his usual blend of wit and savvy.

In addition to Greg Herren's widely respected Chanse MacLeod series, Herren writes a second series about Scotty Bradley, a lamebrain go-go dancer turned P.I.. There are currently six MacLeod titles (book seven is in the works) and six Bradley books. Both series are set in New Orleans, which Herren writes about with great affection and knowledge.

John Morgan Wilson brings disgraced Los Angeles investigative reporter Benjamin Justice back for his eighth and possibly final appearance in Spider Season. After publishing his own memoirs, the now fifty-year-old Justice must finally confront his troubled past.

One of the longest still-running gay P.I. series is Dorien Grey's Dick Hardesty. There are currently fifteen Hardesty titles. In The Peripheral Son, Hardesty is hired to look into the disappearance of yet another endangered investigative reporter. This word-slinger was poking into corrupt labor unions and drug use in professional boxing. (Investigative journalism would appear to be one of the most dangerous professions around -- possibly even more dangerous than being a P.I.!)

Worthy of special mention is Anthony Bidulka's engaging and droll Saskatoon P.I. Russell Quant. The series kicks off with the award-worthy Amuse Bouche, and is currently up to eight installments. 2012's Dos Equis finds Quant recalled from self-imposed exile by a phone call from an old foe. This time it's personal. Again.

David Lennon chose to self-publish the Lambda-winning Quarter Boys, first in the New Orleans-based series about Michel Doucette and Sassy Jones, two former homicide cops turned P.I.s. The series concludes with 2013's well-written and moving Fierce.

Joseph R.G. DeMarco writes about a Philly gumshoe, Marco Fontana, who owns and manages a troupe of gay strippers on the side. There are currently three installments; Crimes on Latimer: From the Early Cases of Marco Fontana is the latest.

One of the most exciting voices in the new wave of gay P.I. fiction belongs to Marshall Thornton who writes primarily about a 1970s AIDS era tough guy investigator by the name of Nick Nowak. In Murder Book, the fifth installment, The Bughouse Slasher is responsible for the deaths of eight people, with the death of the latest victim hitting Nowak hard. Can Nowak succeed where Chicago PD has failed?

Russ Gregory's Greg Honey: A Honey Agency Novel is first in what sounds like a light-hearted romp about an Austin, Texas P.I. who is also the scion of a wealthy family. Honey doesn't drive, doesn't carry a gun, and brings his gal pal along on his cases.

John Peyton Cooke returns with the fairly grim sounding The Rape of Ganymede and The Fall of Lucifer, the only two titles so far in the Greg Quaintance series. The books are set in 1998 New York City. Our hero "sports a Desert Storm tattoo, packs a Glock, and drives a Plymouth Barracuda, but only those who know him best see the wounds etched in his heart."

Gregory Harris introduces a Victorian era series with the Holmsian-flavored The Arnifour Affair. Colin Pendragon is a brilliant and eccentric private detective aided in his sleuthing by a rent boy Watson by the name of Ethan Pruitt. The second book, The Bellingham Bloodbath is due out in August.

Jonathan Gregory's "Gemini and Flowers" series so far consists of four dense, self-published books set in rural England. Tom Flowers is an ex-copper. The author describes his work as "a new take on the English country murder mystery where the main focus is the community, not just the crime."

Stephen E. Stanley chose to self-publish both the Jeremy Dance series -- about a 1930s private investigator -- as well as the contemporary Jesse Ashworth stories. Ashworth is a former teacher who teams up with a former cop to open the Big Boys' Detective Agency. There are currently two titles in the Dance series and five in the Ashworth series (with number six on the way).

David Lloyd's career as a police officer was destroyed by a brutal homophobic attack. Now he works as a P.I. in Liz Strange's Missing Daughter, Shattered Family (A David Lloyd Investigation).

In Canadian Jeffrey Round's Lake on the Mountain, Dan Sharp is a gay father and missing persons investigator who accepts an invitation to a wedding on a yacht in Ontario's Prince Edward County, and then investigates when a member of the wedding party is lost overboard. Pumpkin Eater is the second book in the series.

Donald Algeo's Steel City Investigations features New York City gossip columnist Eddie Carlyle and his pub-owner brother Nick, heirs to one of the greatest family fortunes in Pennsylvania. They decide to open a detective agency. Because... well, what else would they do?

A.R. Fiano's boxing Buddhist cat lover Gabriel Ross is hired to find his missing client by the missing client's sister in The Hanged Man. And in Two Faced Woman Ross deals with the trauma of the previous case.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Kennedy's Welsh Valley boy, Bear Caradog, takes the case (and the cake) in The Case of the Missing Slingbacks, the first in a proposed series of Bear Caradog mysteries.

Anne Brookes' Paul Maloney shows the bad judgment traditionally demonstrated by private eyes in taking a case from his married ex-lover in Maloney's Law. The sequel is The Bones of Summer.

The Pryde of Lyons by Donald Edward Peters features Quince, a bouncer and part-time P.I. working for a blackmailed politician.

A.B. Robbins released Worldwide Adventures of A Beverly Hills P.I.: A Collection in November 2013. This is a compilation of short stories featuring a dick named Peter Pansy. It appears to be a sincere, if quaint, effort.

"Claw-footed bathtubs, a gay pub, cane-fighting, the treacherous sewers under a city... high crimes and misdemeanors await you" in the "Gaslight Mysteries" series by Erin O'Quinn, featuring Michael McCree and Simon Hart, a reporter and a privatate investigator often at odds, in 1923 Ireland. The latest entry is To the Bone (2013).

Nick Fallon and his partner Jeff Stevens own a P.I. service in Laguna Beach, California in the eponymous Nick Fallon series by J.P. Bowie. Titles are A Deadly Game, A Deadly Deception, Murder Above Fourth and Murder by Proxy.

Meanwhile, there is a touch of the paranormal in Andrea Speed's very popular "Infected" series. A cat virus has infected the world, and those who contract the virus are pariahs -- which actually isn't a problem for the antisocial (and infected) private eye Roan McKichan.

You should also keep an eye out for The Book of Joel, the third in A.R.Fiano's Gabriel Ross series, and there are two more David Lloyd investigations by Liz Strange on the way: A Fresh Set of Eyes and Destination Unknown.

And last, but certainly not least, Rhys Ford demonstrates her multi-cultural influences in this promising Los Angeles-based series. P.I. Cole McGinnis is of Japanese and Irish heritage. His romantic interest, Kim Jae-Min, is Korean. So far there are four books in the series, with the latest being Dirty Deeds.

* * * * *

Speaking of private eyes and investigative reporters and all that, Josh Lanyon's own Doyle & Spain series features former war correspondent Nathan Doyle working the Los Angeles beat, only it's the City of Angels in 1943. Snowball in Hell is a gritty little yuletide novella about blackmail, kidnapping, and murder. In a much more light-hearted vein is This Rough Magic, first in the "A Shot in the Dark" series set in 1930s San Francisco, featuring Neil Patrick Rafferty. The erotic content in both series is indicative of the influence of Male/Male Romance.

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