The Night Has a Thousand Eyes

Several years ago–more than I really care to recall, really–another writer told me he was “getting older and becoming more concerned with <his> legacy.” This took me aback. I’d never given a thought to such a thing, and to this day, it’s not something I give much thought or consideration to; I still don’t, really. I mean, it’s not really up to us as writers to worry about what legacy we leave behind, is it? I have always assumed once I am dead and gone both me and my work will eventually be forgotten; and even if by some weird, bizarre chance I should have some sort of revival or discovery by some future gay mystery scholar–who cares? I mean, won’t I be dead and beyond caring about such things?

Why should I be concerned about whether I’m just as unknown after death as I was when I was alive?

I became interested in Cornell Woolrich a few years ago; I don’t remember why exactly, or how he came to my attention; I just remember ordering this book and several others over the years. Woolrich has been dead for quite some time, and isn’t really remembered very much today outside of some enthusiasts of crime fiction history. I was very surprised to find out that some of his stories and novels had been filmed; “It Had to Be Murder,” for example, became Hitchcock’s Rear Window, which is something, right? Woolrich was gay and an alcoholic–so many writers of the period were (and frankly, I think using a typewriter for writing had a lot to do with it)–and he eventually died from complications from alcoholism. I thought it would be nice to read some of his work, particularly during Pride Month.

Every night he walked along the river, going home. Every night, about one. You do that when you’re young; walk along beside the river, looking at the water, looking at the stars. Sometimes you do that even when you’re a detective, and strictly speaking, have nothing to do with stars.

He could have taken the bus, ridden home as all the others did, when he came off duty. It wasn’t even the shortest route to where he lived, this walk beside the river. It took him out of his way a little. He didn’t mind that. It sounded better when you whistled, with the water there beside you. It made the stars seem brighter, and it made you want to look at them more, when the water was there below them to catch them upside down. It made you dream better; those dreams you have in your head in your twenties. You can’t dream in a bus, with all your fellows around you.

And so–every night he walked along the river, going home. Every night, about one, a little after.

It really took me awhile to get through this one, to be honest. I started it a few years ago, and it didn’t really grab me; this time I was determined to see my way through to the end. Sickness, and other things–it’s not like the world isn’t ablaze, after all–kept me from completing it, and in all honesty, even finishing it yesterday morning forced me to start skimming. It’s a great concept, but it’s got too much filler.

The concept behind it–a man who can see the future tells a rich man he knows when he is going to die, and the effect this has on the rich man and his daughter–is quite excellent; it’s in the execution that it falters. The opening is strong enough: Shawn, a young policeman, tends to walk home along the river after his shift is over. On this particular night he comes across a trail of things–money, a compact, a lipstick, things that might have fallen out of a woman’s purse; he eventually finds the purse, and the woman it belongs to is on a bridge, ready to jump. He stops her, takes her to an all-night diner, and she tells him the sad story of how her father and she became involved with this man who can see the future and how desperate she and her father have become as the man’s other predictions come true and they become convinced her father is going to die.

But the telling of the story is over half the length of the book, and Woolrich doesn’t take it into prose; he uses the device of her desperately telling her sad tale of woe precisely the way I just described it–she’s telling him the story, and the story drags precisely for that reason: it’s passive storytelling, not active, and certainly not how I would have told it. It’s a personal preference, and Woolrich IS a very good writer; I just don’t think he should have told it so passively. The suspense and drama comes from the question of whether the man with the gift of prophecy is actually a fraud or for real; but if it’s fraud, to what end? The second half of the book moves much faster, but also has a lot of dead weight/filler as well, hence the skimming; it may just be a more dated style. I also find it kind of hard to believe that the New York police would take this story seriously enough to put up to eight men on it–and there’s a horrific scene where the cops, needing access to an apartment so they can eavesdrop on the prophet, essentially set up the woman who lives there (and has been arrested for solicitation before, but not for over six years) for solicitation so they can use her apartment–and dismiss this horrifying abuse of power and her civil rights as just and necessary; and even laugh about her being sent away for at least thirty days!

But overall, it’s a good story and well-told, if a bit slow in places. Woolrich had a way with words, for sure, and sure, I think it’s worth a read; if for no other reason than to see how writers in the past handled suspense.

I Will Survive

As Pride Month comes to a close, here is a list of all the queer crime writers I posted about over the month; a handy list for anyone wanting to check out queer crime writers. This is by no means a comprehensive list, either; there are so many wonderful queer crime writers and there were only thirty days in June, alas.

I am also going to list the book whose cover I used in the post I made.

Ready? Here goes.

Joseph Hanson, Fadeout

Barbara Wilson, Murder in the Collective

Michael Nava, Lay Your Sleeping Head

Katherine V. Forrest, Murder at the Nightwood Bar

George Baxt, A Queer Kind of Death

Ellen Hart, Wicked Games

J. M. Redmann, The Intersection of Law and Desire

John Morgan Wilson, Simple Justice

Randye Lorden, Brotherly Love

Nathan Aldyne, Cobalt

Mark Richard Zubro, A Simple Suburban Murder

Sandra Scoppetone, I’ll Be Leaving You Always

James Robert Baker, Adrenaline

Mary Wings, She Came by the Book

R. D. Zimmerman, Closet

Dean James, Faked to Death

Claire McNab, Blood Link

Mabel Maney, The Case of the Good-For-Nothing Girlfriend

Keith Hartman, The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse

Christopher Rice, A Density of Souls

Greg Herren, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories (guest posted by the amazing Jeffrey Marks)

Grant Michaels, A Body to Dye For

Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley/The Price of Salt

Jaye Maiman, I Left My Heart

Neil Plakcy, Mahu

Ann Aptaker, Tarnished Gold

Michael Craft, Eye Contact

John Copenhaver, Dodging and Burning

Rob Byrnes, Straight Lies

Kristen Lepionka, The Last Place You Look

Renee James, Transition to Murder

Dharma Kelleher, Chaser

Anne Laughlin, A Date to Die

Do bear in mind that this is merely a good starting point; there are so many terrific queer crime writers writing terrific queer mysteries. There are also a lot of non-queer people who are writing terrific queer mysteries these days as well. I couldn’t name everyone; and in fact, on the last two days of Pride Month I had to double (triple today) up to make sure I used all the writers I wanted to talk about.

Thanks, everyone, for playing along; your likes and comments and shares were deeply appreciated.

A better resource for queer mysteries and queer crime writers, if you’re looking for something a bit comprehensive, check out either Judith A. Markowitz’ The Gay Detective Novel: Lesbian and Gay Main Characters & Themes in Mystery Fiction, and Drewey Wayne Gunn’s The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film: A History and Annotated Bibliography.

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With Your Love

Here we go again, on the rollercoaster that is my usual work week! Good morning, Monday, how the hell are you?

I am still rather sleepy this morning; more of a tired eyes thing than anything else, really. I got new contact lenses (a trial pair) from my optometrist on Thursday; yesterday was my first time trying them out in real life, as it were (I wore them home from Metairie on Thursday, taking them out as soon as I got home). The new lenses didn’t really seem to fit in my right eye; that lens felt off the whole time Thursday, and again when I put them in yesterday. But within minutes my right eye adjusted and they became comfortable; the progressive lenses actually began to work as well, which they hadn’t any time I had tried previously with another set of lenses. I wound up wearing them for almost seven hours yesterday, which was kind of lovely. Today and tomorrow, however, are too long of work days to try them out again; I’ll hold off until Wednesday before trying them again. But it’s nice to have contact lenses again; I’ve not really worn contacts since discovering, five or six years ago, that I need progressive lenses (what used to be called bifocals).

This weekend, on June 1, I started posting on social media about queer crime books in order to celebrate Pride Month (last year I simply posted a queer book cover every day for Pride; this year I am specifically focusing on queer crime novels). I want to be absolutely clear that, in case there’s any confusion, I am posting queer crime books that were influences on me; or influential at some point in my lengthy (!) career. At the end of the month I will post the entire list here for more easy access to anyone looking to look at queer crime novels, or looking for such a list–I may not be an expert on queer fiction, or even on queer crime fiction, but I do have my list and I do know the books I read and enjoyed that made me think and develop my own queer crime novels.

And if I can bring attention to a queer crime writer who has somehow fallen off the radar, so much the better.

Yesterday we went to brunch at our friend Pat’s lovely deluxe apartment in the sky; she really has the most spectacular views of the Mississippi River at what’s called the Riverbend (from her dining room) and the rest of the city (from the terrace outside her living room). Her apartment is filled with natural light, gorgeous built in bookshelves filled with wonderful books, and amazing art everywhere. It’s kind of a dream apartment for me–one I’d never be able to afford in a million years–but every time I set foot in her apartment I do spend a moment or two fantasizing about living there (just as I always fantasized about living in her partner Michael’s former home in Hammond). It was, as always, a lovely afternoon, and enormously relaxing. I wasn’t able to do anything when I got home around six because I was so relaxed; instead, I started watching Chernobyl on HBO, which is incredibly sad and disturbing. I remember when Chernobyl happened in real life, just as I remember the Three Mile Island scare in the late 1970’s. It’s interesting that since those two scares that nuclear power plants are pretty much not talked about or thought much about anymore, when back in the day they were quite controversial (I’ve mentioned Scotty’s parents protesting nuclear power plants in the earlier books in the series) but that controversy doesn’t seem to exist as much anymore, as though activists have maybe given up on their dangers…or it’s not glamorous enough to be considered newsworthy anymore. I do recall after the natural disaster in Japan several years ago (earthquake/tsunami) there were concerns about a Japanese nuclear power plant…but those concerns also evaporated once the news cycle moved on from the Japanese disaster.

One thing that was interesting about visiting Pat’s apartment was her view of the river, mainly from the dining room windows–which was my first experience this year actually looking at how the river is in its flood stage. The river has apparently been in flood stage longer than it has any time since the Great Flood of 1927, which changed everything as far as governmental policies and procedures for fighting floods; this was the natural disaster that created the Southeast Louisiana Flood Project, building levees and dams all along the river and its tributaries. For only the third time in history all the spillways north of New Orleans are being opened–and the tributaries are all still flooding and continuing to rise. The river itself it almost to the top of the levees in Baton Rouge, and apparently a levee on the Mississippi breached further north yesterday or this morning; I saw the report on social media earlier this morning but didn’t read it; I think it was in Illinois, maybe?

Anyway, the river is really high and this reminds me that the river being high was a plot point in Bourbon Street Blues, all those years ago, and it also reminds me of how vulnerable the city is for this year’s hurricane season–if the river is already almost to the tops of the levees, a storm surge coming up the river would overtop them quite easily; which begs the question, would the levees be blown below the city to save it? Any time there’s potential flooding of New Orleans there’s always the belief that levees are blown to save the city; people believe the levee failure during Katrina was planned, to save the French Quarter and white Uptown; people still believe the levees were blown below the city for Betsy in 1965.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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