Started reading Marshall Thornton’s Boystown mysteries after hearing the author read at the WeHo library as part of the pre-Lammy festivities last month. Have to say, I’m enjoying them a lot.
Each of the first three volumes is made up of three novellas featuring private detective Nick Nowak. The stories are set in Chicago in the early 1980s. In addition to enjoying the echoes of my childhood in Chicago at that time, I am also appreciating the subtle character and relationship arcs that wind through the mysteries. Nick Nowak is a man of few words, but, like Hemmingway, those words say a lot.
It’s an interesting time to set a book–in the early 1980s, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, when people knew something was going on, but no one knew quite what it was. The author doesn’t sugar-coat the attitudes of the time, the violence to which gay men and lesbians were subjected. The series starts out with Nowak and his lover being bashed. In one night, he loses his job (when it’s discovered that he’s gay), his family (who reject him), his lover (because Nick tried to cover up the fact that the attack was gay-bashing in order to preserve his job), and the life he’s built. It haunts him for the rest of the series.
Although the mysteries themselves are solidly written, what I’m enjoying the most is the subtle explorations of the nature of love, sex, friendship, loyalty, and obligation–none of which are addressed directly in such grand terms–but rather as told through the blunt, direct words of the protagonist.
We read for many reasons. One of my favorite reasons for reading is to get a glimpse of the world from the point of view of someone who sees it much differently from me–not only to broaden my own perspective, but to see the similarities. Nick Nowak, by dint of personality and experiences, is probably about as different from me as one can get. There were so many points in the story, at which I would have made a different decision. At the same time, this very skillful author made it easy to see how, the protagonist being who he is, would make the choices he does–choices that form him and shape his relationships. It’s this internal logic that makes such a different character accessible, interesting, and ultimately sympathetic.
An excellent series, and highly recommended.