Monday, December 2, 2013

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Five out of five possible stars

This is the twelfth and final entry in Joseph Hansen's excellent series featuring insurance investigator, Dave Brandstetter. Published over a period of twenty-one years, from Fadeout in 1970, to this book in 1991, the series was witty and very well-written, with cleverly-plotted stories and well-drawn characters. Set in southern California, the books also captured perfectly the geography and the social and economic currents of the place and time.

What really set these books apart was the fact that Hansen created in Dave Brandstetter the first openly gay P.I. to inhabit a series like this, and neither Hansen, not his protagonist ever made a big deal out of it. Dave's sexual orientation was made clear from the opening pages of the first book, and it was simply a fact of life, just like the sexual orientation of any other detective. Dave had a love life and was active sexually throughout the series, but it never seemed intrusive or in any way out of the ordinary. In fact, Dave's romantic attachements were much more believable than those of many of his heterosexual fictional contemporaries.

As the series opened, Dave was already a middle-aged man and by the first pages of this one, he is nearing seventy. Many of the friends who populated the series with him are gone now; the others are all retired. Dave himself is not well; he tires easily and aches all over. His long-time lover, Cecil, begs him to see a doctor, but Dave dismisses the idea and claims he hasn't the time.

The story opens when a friend calls Dave in a panic. A young boy has apparently witnessed a murder and was then kidnapped by the woman he saw standing over the body. The boy, who has clearly been abused, manages to escape from his captor, whose name is Rachel Klein, and is found wandering along a beach by Dave's friend. The murdered victim, Cricket Shales, was a musician who has just been released from prison after serving time on a drug charge. He and Klein, who is also an addict, were once an item and she apparently feared he was coming back for her.

The cops arrest Klein and are ready to declare the case closed. But Dave is not so sure that Klein is guilty and so continues his own investigation of the case, even though he has allegedly been retired himself for a couple of years. In the process, he will put his own life and health in jeopardy.

The story itself is a good one, with lots of twists and turns, but in this book, the mystery takes a back seat to the health problems that are obviously ailing Dave. Along with Cecil, readers have worried over Dave's physical decline, especially in the last couple of books, and it's clear where this one is headed. As one nears the end of the book, it becomes especially hard to turn the pages and you want to linger over every last word.

When we finally reach the end of the case, and of Dave's career, it's a sad and elegiac moment. But one closes the book with a deep appreciation of what was a ground-breaking and very special series. Hansen was as good as any other crime writer of his era and this is a series that readers will remember long after they have forgotten most others.

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