Strachey Series by Richard Stevenson
Overview by Sam Phillips
For those of you who haven't read the Strachey
series, they are, for my money, some of the funniest, smartest
PI novels around. The guy is just a terrific writer! Maybe even
Death Trick (1981): In the series opener Albany PI Donald Strachey
takes on a sensational murder case within the gay community --
which just happens to be up his own alley. This one is made memorable
by Stevenson's portrait of gay life from nearly a quarter of
a century ago (remember bath houses?!) Appealing, believable
characters (Timothy Callahan, Strachey's Jesuit-educated lover
is a creative gem) and a wicked sense of humor lift this novel
"straight" out of the genre.
On the Other Hand, Death (1984): Extortion,
kidnapping and murder complicate Strachey's attempt to protect
a lesbian couple from a vicious campaign of intimidation. Twists
and turns abound in the second Strachey caper. There is the usual
amusing cast of friends and foes, numerous sexual escapades and
plenty of laughs. The evolving relationship between Strachey
and lover Timmy Callahan provides some of the wittiest repartee
in any mystery of recent memory.
Ice Blues (1986): One of my favorites in
a favorite series. Albany's only gay PI takes on that city's
political machine when Strachey finds a murdered man planted
in his car. Smooth and funny, but with a definite kick, the third
Strachey mystery never fails to entertain though the plot leans
more toward zany than suspenseful. As with good scotch, you can
soak up this book in one sitting and be giggling out loud before
you know it.
The relationship between Strachey and his lover
Timmy is featured more prominently in the third book than in
any of the other six novels. The Timmy and Don partnership is
(for my money) the most intelligent, believable and entertaining
in gay mysterydom. In almost any mysterydom, for that matter.
Third Man Out (1992): In book four of this
under-appreciated series, Stevenson deals with the touchy issue
of the forced "outing" of gays by other gays.
Reluctantly, Strachey agrees to act as body guard
to Queer Nation activist John Rutka, who has inspired mucho death
threats following a conscienceless campaign of outings. Strachey
gets disgusted, quits and someone burns Rutka to a crisp.
As usual Stevenson agilely juggles a variety of
themes: hypocrisy within the Catholic church, euthanasia, AIDS,
the right to privacy for public figures. These are topics addressed
by many mystery writers with varying degrees of insight and sensitivity.
Stevenson, as ever, manages to be funny and rational at the same
A Shock to the System (1995): He twists,
he turns, he ties up loose ends: Richard Stevenson is one of
the best PI writers out there. I suspect his Don Strachey series
isn't taken as seriously as it should be (as seriously, for example,
as Michael Nava's downer Henry Rios series) because they're so
funny. Funny, yes, but smart. And you don't have to be gay to
enjoy Stevenson's clever, crafty mysteries. True, the books are
often political in theme, but the tone is non-strident and convincing.
In this one, three clients (count 'em, three) want Strachey to investigate the apparent suicide of Paul Craig, including Craig's psychiatrist who was treating Craig with aversion therapy for his homosexuality. And then, just as fast, all three want Strachey to drop the case. Ain't gonna happen. Another of my all-time favorites.
Chain of Fools (1996): In book six, a conscience-stricken Timmy pressures Don to investigate attacks on the life of a sort-of-newspaper heiress. In fact, Timmy wants to help. Opportunities for
mirth and mayhem abound, but Stevenson ignores them as he sends
Strachey in pursuit of his suspects, including possibly homicidal
siblings and a possibly homicidal media conglomerate. Strachey's
detecting uncovers an earlier murder, a jewel robbery and more
than a few family skeletons. Not the strongest in the series
-- Stevenson's heart doesn't seem to be in it.
Strachey's Folly (1998): Written in 1999,
this one seems to be the final book in the series. Timmy and
Don are in Washington, D.C. to view the AIDS Memorial Quilt with
their friend Maynard. They discover a panel for one of Maynard's
ex-lovers -- a man who was alive two weeks earlier. Not long
after, Maynard is gunned down in an attack that seems a little
too coincidental, and Strachey sets out to learn what secrets
lie behind the ex-lover's disappearance.
All by Richard Stevenson
Death Trick (1981)...Buy
On the Other Hand, Death (1984)...Buy
Ice Blues (1986)...Buy
Third Man Out (1992)...Buy
A Shock to the System (1995)...Buy
Chain of Fools (1996)...Buy
Strachey's Folly (1998)...Buy
Series overview submitted
by Sam Phillips,