'After forty years, Hammett has a worthy successor' The Times
Dave Brandstetter stands alongside Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and Lew Archer as one of the best fictional PIs in the business. Like them, he was tough, determined, and ruthless when the case demanded it. Unlike them, he was gay.
Joseph Hansen's groundbreaking novels follow Brandstetter as he investigates cases in which motives are murky, passions run high, and nothing is ever as simple as it looks. Set in 1970s and 80s California, the series is a fascinating portrait of a time and a place, with mysteries to match Chandler and Macdonald.
The 'Combat Zone' is for men playing at war, with paint rather than bullets. But when a millionaire's son is shot with a real gun, Dave is called in to find out if it's more than an accident. The case takes him to a town with its own neo-Nazi militia - not the safest place for a gay PI; but then Dave has never figured his own safety much when he's on the tracks of a killer.
For mystery readers mysteriously unacquainted with Hansen's Dave Brandstetter, this will be a good introduction. Brandstetter, officially retired as a private eye, accedes to his lover Cecil's request to investigate the death of Vaughn Thomas, a co-worker at Channel 3 shot in a ``combat pursuit'' game by a real gun, not a paintball. Traveling to the home town of the young woman Thomas lived with, Brandstetter arrives just after she's murdered and her young son wounded. On a course marked by a right-wing paramilitary group, a jealous ex-husband and Thomas's hard-driving marketing-consultant stepmother (none of them nice), Hansen guides us in spare, smooth prose to a satisfying conclusion. Brandstetter's homosexuality is treated lightly--a boy in the paramilitary group has ``pretty arms''--and his age isn't avoided: he needs his reading glasses. A worthy addition to classic Southern California detective stories.