Richard Stevenson’s Donald Strachey Mysteries

A winter scene in western Montana
Driving Little Beaver Creek Road in the Winter

Richard Lipez started writing the Donald Strachey mysteries with Death Trick in 1981. Since then, he has published an additional fifteen books in the series, most recently Killer Reunion in 2019. Donald Strachey is a private investigator living in Albany, New York. Donald’s partner, Timothy Callahan, works for the New York State Legislature. I do not know Albany. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never been there. But Lipez, writing as Richard Stevenson, depicts the city so well, I feel I could walk the streets and not get lost. The post below looks at one of my favorite mystery series, Richard Stevenson’s Donald Strachey mysteries.

A Short Biography of Donald Strachey’s Creator

Richard Lipez was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania on November 30th, 1938. A journalist as well as author, he is openly gay and lives in Massachusetts with his husband Joe Wheaton, a sculptor. In 1968, Lipez married Hedy Harris and is the father of two children. His marriage ended in 1989. He received his B.A. at Lock Haven State College in 1961, and pursued graduate study at Penn State. From 1962 to 1964, he served the Peace Corps in Ethiopia. The next three years (’64-’67) he was a program evaluator in the District of Columbia. He served as Executive Director of Action for Opportunity, an anti-poverty agency in Pittsfield, Massachusetts from 1968 to 1970, and has been a free-lance writer ever since.

As a journalist, he wrote editorials for the Berkshire (Massachusetts) Eagle. He has been the “Mystery” reviewer for the Washington Post. His work has appeared in Atlantic, Harper’s, Newsday, Progressive, and Redbook among other periodicals. But his most famous works are the sixteen (to date) Don Strachey mysteries Lipez has published under the pseudonym Richard Stevenson.

The Donald Strachey Mysteries

To date,sixteen Donald Strachey mysteries have appeared in print. Four of them have been made into movies, which I’ll get into below. It drives me nuts that I still haven’t unpacked and catalogued all my books. I know I purchased and read a lot more of these novels than the two LibraryThing claims I own.

Death Trick, the first Donald Strachey Mystery

That said, the series began in 1981 with Death Trick. Maureen Corrigan, book critic for “Fresh Air” on National Public Radio, had this to say about the book. “Death Trick is one of a select group of mysteries that I reread every couple of years. Its Chandler-esque wisecracks always make me laugh and its late 1970s picture of raucous and exuberant gay nightlife always makes me mourn anew the brevity of that pre-AIDS golden age.”

Michael Nava, himself the author of gay mysteries, wrote “Of all the gay mystery writers of the past twenty years, Richard Stevenson is the most underestimated but may be the best of the lot. His books are wise and witty and in Don Strachey he has created a wonderful character who is a lot less dour than most private investigators and a lot more fun to spend time with. I’m glad to see him back in action.” And that, for me, is key. I would love to spend time with Don and Tim.

(I took both quotes above from the page for the novel.)

Ice Blues, the third Donald Strachey mystery

Cross-Country Skiing in the Rattlesnake
Cross-country skiing (and falling)

Yesterday, I re-read Ice Blues. It’s been quite a while since I read any of the Donald Strachey mysteries, but now I want to go back and read or re-read them all. This book was fun! Strachey’s humor shows more than a little snark. The love between Strachey and Callahan is obvious—and whether or not they have stood before a priest, they’re definitely married. The comments thrown back and forth could come only from a couple who knows all the buttons to push, and when to push them.

The story line, as in all the Strachey novels I’ve read, has more than a tangential gay subtext. Yes the PI is openly gay. And yes, he has to deal with a homophobic bigot in the police department. But the murder victim is also gay, and (spoiler alert) there are many other gay characters important to the plot. Refreshingly, none of the bad guys are gay. Homophobic? Of course. But not self-loathing gay men and lesbians. No, the heroes are folks I could consider my friends.

The Sixteen Mysteries with Publication Date

All sixteen are available through both in print and in e-book form for Kindle.

Death Trick1981
On the Other Hand, Death1984
Ice Blues1986
Third Man Out1992
Shock to the System1995
Chain of Fools1996
Strachey’s Folly1998
Tongue Tied2003
Death Vows2008
The 38 Million Dollar Smile2009
Red White Black and Blue2011
The Last Thing I Saw2012
Why Stop at Vengeance2015
Killer Reunion2019

The Donald Strachey Movies

Starting in 2005, Here TV started filming the Donald Strachey mysteries. Skipping Death Trick, they filmed the next four books in the series, but not in order. The books do stand alone, and so do the movies. Third Man Out, the fourth novel, was the first movie Here TV filmed. In 2006, they added Shock to the System. And in 2008 both Ice Blues and On the Other Hand, Death.

Four actors appeared in all four films. Chad Allen starred as Donald Strachey and Sebastian Spence as his lover Timothy Callahan. Daryl Shuttleworth played Detective Bub Bailey and Nelson Wong portrayed Strachey’s assistant Kenny Kwon. Ron Oliver directed all four movies, and the Vancouver, British Columbia area (mostly Langley, B.C.) served as location.

The Back Lot Features

In addition to the movies, Here TV produced short features, roughly half an hour each, which they named Back Lot. The Back Lot features are not really trailers, but more like teasers. The actors and directors speak about the movie and their parts. They also give their personal impressions. Back Lot: Ice Blues, for example, starts out with Director Ron Oliver saying ““I just love making these movies.” Daryl Shuttleworth adds “It’s not very often you get to come to work and laugh and enjoy yourself.”

But Chad Allen summarizes the movie’s draw succinctly. “Some people are going to have fun picking apart the mysteries. And others are going to love the love story.” And that’s the catch. The stories, both the books and the movies, are both murder mysteries and love stories. But, need I say, the movies use the books more as inspiration than plot outline. Let’s look at Ice Blues, as it’s the book I read most recently.

Winter Driving on the Oregon Coast

How Closely Should a Movie Follow the Book?

Both book and movie take place in Albany, New York. They both involve a donation of a large sum of money from an unknown source. Both involve a death from years back, which may have been a murder. And in both, the ostensible donor’s body turns up in Strachey’s car. The mystery is not just who killed the donor, but where did the money come from. The donor could not possibly have amassed millions of dollars himself.

So much for inspiration. In the book, the donor is the grandson of an old-time political operative. The movie has him as a third-generation lawyer in a powerful family firm. In the book, we’re looking at $2.5 million which the donor wants to use to clean up Albany politics. In the film, it’s $3 million to be used for troubled youth. These may be minor differences, and I have to admit, I haven’t seen the movie in many, many years.

The book also involves five suitcases stuffed with twenty and fifty dollar bills—$2.5 million in actual cash. The movie has untraceable EURO bonds worth $3 million. It’s a lot easier to carry around bearer bonds than to schlep five suitcases. Again, a minor point, but those five suitcases add an almost vaudevillian humor that an envelope full of bearer bonds just can’t convey.

End Notes

I’m not saying don’t watch the movies. I am seriously considering subscribing to Here TV just so I can watch them. They’re also available for rental through Amazon Prime, Fandango Now!, Google TV, Apple TV and Youtube. Frankly, if I’m going to pay $3 to rent a movie, I’d rather pay $7 and subscribe to the service. Your mileage may differ.

Finally, a few notes about the photos. As I stated in the opening paragraph, I have never been to Albany, New York. It follows that I have taken no photos there. But one of the recurring themes in Ice Blues is that winter in Albany is miserable. I have chosen photos to reflect the icy blue cold of winter.

Also, below there are links to where you can purchase Donald Strachey mysteries. If you click on the links and buy, I will receive a small amount as an Amazon Affiliate. This doesn’t cost you anything more than the purchase price and I make a few cents from your purchase. Not bad, eh?

Next week’s author? Greg Herren who writes about Chanse MacLeod and Scotty Bradley, private eyes in New Orleans. We’ll let the bon temps roulez, eh cher?



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