Christmas 2020 Joseph Hansen Mysteries
For Christmas, Another Gay P.I.
It’s Friday as this posts, the 25th of December. I should start off by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. I hope that as we approach the end of 2020 you are able to find some joy in your life. More than anything else, I wish you joy. Joy and Joseph Hansen mysteries.
It’s Friday as this posts, the 25th of December. My editorial calendar says that on Fridays I write about an author whose work has touched me. The past few weeks, I’ve written about men who have gay private investigators as their main character. Two weeks ago it was Richard Stevenson. Last week it was Greg Herren. Today, we are going to look at the grand-daddy of such work, Joseph Hansen. Maybe I’m pushing things when I call Hansen “Grand-daddy.” Stevenson started his series in 1981. Herren not until 2002. Hansen’s Dave Brandstetter first saw light in 1970. That’s one year after Stonewall. It’s the year I graduated from College. It’s before many (most?) of you dear readers were born. Let’s take a closer look at this early proponent of serious gay fiction.
Joseph Hansen’s Biography
Joseph Hansen was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota on July 19th, 1923. At the age of ten, he moved with his family to Minneapolis, and later to Altadena, California. He lived the rest of his life in Southern California, dying on November 24th, 2004 in Laguna Beach.
In 1943, he married Jane Bancroft. Bancroft, an artist who worked for Lockheed at the time, was lesbian. Hansen himself didn’t like the word “gay.” He was homosexual. Somehow the two made it work. Hansen said that they were a gay man and woman who loved each other. They had a daughter born in 1944. Their child has since had sexual reassignment surgery and now goes by the name Daniel James Hansen.
Hansen and Bancroft lived together until her death in 1994. Hansen lived on for another ten years. He died in Laguna Beach, California on November 24th, 2004. He left a legacy of over fifty books and 94 boxes of paper now housed by the Online Archives of California.
In the late 1930s, Hansen worked with the Pasadena Playhouse. While there, he had his first serious gay relationship. Around 1940, now living just off Hollywood Boulevard, Hansen worked at the Pickwick Bookshop. The Online Archives of California use the term “infamous” for that establishment. They state that while working there, Hansen met many of the show business folk who would later figure in his writing.
His first published work was poetry. The New Yorker published his work in 1950. He did some screenwriting, and in 1965 published his first novel. Written under the pen name James Colton, Strange Marriage (1965) and Known Homosexual (1968) apparently are gay erotica. I couldn’t say for sure as I haven’t read either one. I am intrigued by the cover blurb on Strange Marriage. “Passion assumes strange shapes when a virile homosexual first tastes the love offered by a hungry and tempestuous woman.” I do wonder how much of his home life figured in this book.
While his primary occupation was writer, Hansen was also a speaker, a radio personality, and an activist. He wrote for and served on the editorial board of ONE magazine, a very early gay publication. He later co-founded the journal Tangents. Hansen was one of the organizers of the 1970 Los Angeles Pride parade–the city’s first. He led a weekly poetry workshop that developed into the Beyond Baroque Literary and Arts Center. He also taught extension courses on writing at UCLA. Makes me tired just reading about all he did.
Fadeout, the first of the Joseph Hansen Mysteries
Harper & Row published Fadeout in hardcover in 1970. This is the book that introduced Dave Brandstetter to the world. Brandstetter has just returned to work after grieving the loss of his partner. He works for his father as an investigator for Medallion Insurance. In Fadeout. the 40 something Brandstetter has to investigate a death claim filed when a local celebrity’s car is found in what appears to be a horrendous storm-caused car accident. Brandstetter is not convinced. For one thing, no body has been found. The not-so-grieving widow assures him that when the storm is over and the rushing waters recede, the body will turn up.
Well, maybe not. And as Brandstetter continues his investigation, it turns out that lots of people had reason and opportunity to kill the victim. This becomes the norm in the Joseph Hansen mysteries. One victim, lots of suspects. Hansen himself admits this. In the introduction to his collection of short stories, Bohannon’s Country, Hansen writes: “detective stories follow formula. Simply put, someone has been murdered, an assortment of persons had motives for killing him/her, and the detective’s task is to determine which of these suspects is guilty.” It may be formula, but it works, and Hansen certainly makes it work well.
I won’t give away any more of the plot. This is a book well-worth reading if you like mysteries–and I assume my faithful readers do.
Here are the rest of the Brandstetter books. The links take you to my Amazon Associate page where you can buy the book at no extra cost to you, and Amazon gives me a reward for sending you to them.
- 2) Death Claims, 1973
- 3) Troublemaker, 1975
- 4) The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of, 1978
- 5) Skinflick, 1979
- 6) Gravedigger, 1982
- 7) Nightwork, 1984
- 8) Brandstetter and Others: Five Fictions, 1984
- 9) The Little Dog Laughed, 1986
- 10) Early Graves, 1987
- 11) Obedience, 1988
- 12) The Boy Who Was Buried This Morning, 1990
- 13) A Country of Old Men, 1991
Hack Bohannon, A Different type of Joseph Hansen Mystery
Hack Bohannon first appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, in December 1984. The story was titled “The Tango Bear,” and it’s best to let Hansen explain. Again, writing in the introduction to Bohannon’s Country, Hanson tells of a meeting with Eleanor Sullivan, editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. When she asked if he had anything she could print, he reminded her that she’d already turned down one of his stories. “Surf,” with its homosexual subplots, was not something Ellery Queen‘s readers would enjoy. Sullivan persisted, asking if he had something without “that element.” Hansen remembered something that he’d prepared for Playboy years earlier.
Playboy was looking for a thoroughly masculine protagonist, and Hansen gave them Bohannon. They didn’t like it, and Hansen walked away. Now, he dusted Bohannon off and handed him to Ellery Queen. Bohannon used to be a cop, but left the force. Now he has a ranch on the central California coast. He raises horses, stables other folk’s horses, and teaches people how to ride. He also solves mysteries. Unlike Brandstetter, Bohannon is straight, married to Linda. Bohannon doesn’t have any full length books himself. He appears in a series of short stories and novellas, most of which appeared in either Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.
As near as I can tell, Hansen published three volumes of Bohannon stories. Bohannon’s Book appeared in 1988. Bohannon’s Country in 1993, and Bohannon’s Women in 2002. I won’t promise that you’ll avoid all gay content by reading the Bohannon stories, but at least you’ll have a “thoroughly masculine protagonist,” if that’s important to you.
Other Joseph Hansen Mysteries and More
If you just confine yourself to Brandstetter and Bohannon, you’ll have a fine time curled up with good books. But Joseph Hansen wrote so much more. I will just skim over the rest of his oeuvre because, frankly, I’d be here for the next two weeks and still wouldn’t cover everything. Goodreads shows ten pages each with twenty book titles, if you search “Joseph Hansen.” Now I quickly discarded all the books about Fascism, Trotskyism, etc. But I did take a closer look at the post-apocalyptic book series Zombie Rush, Cataclysm and 5 Roads to Texas. Oops. Those book series were published long after our Joseph Hansen died. I now believe there are at least three different authors publishing under the name Joseph Hansen.
So, we’ll forget about politics and the apocalypse. That still leaves us with ten books by our Joseph Hansen. And I’m probably missing a few. I mentioned above that Hansen wrote poetry early in his career. Momentum Press published One Foot in the Boat in 1977. As near as I can tell, that’s the only book of Hansen’s poetry out there. Another early work mentioned above, Known Homosexual came back in 1984 as Pretty Boy Dead. This time around Hansen dropped the pseudonym and published the book under his own name.
Other mysteries include Backtrack (1983), and Blood, Snow and Classic Cars (2001). On a more personal note, Hansen wrote three Nathan Reed books, thinly disguised autobiographies. Living Upstairs (1994) came first, then its prequel Jack of Hearts (1996). The third book, The Cutbank Path, came out in 2002. The three books follow the lives of Nathan Reed and his friends, homosexual men living in Hollywood in the 40s and 50s. Of the three, I’ve read only Living Upstairs, and that was ages ago.
All of that, and I still haven’t covered everything. I thoroughly enjoy Joseph Hansen’s writing. I find his characters believable–indeed men I’d like to know and count as friends. Even the “thoroughly masculine” Hack Bohannon. Many of his books–maybe most–are still in print. That’s why I put the amazon links up above. If you want to settle down with a good mystery, I heartily recommend Joseph Hansen. And next week? How about Michael Nava and his gay, Latino detective Henry Rios.
I hope you’re having a very Merry Christmas and are looking forward to a Happy New Year.