Welcome Erin to my blog today in her guest post on the run up to the launch of my book The Minder.
Thanks, Catherine, for inviting me to your provocative blog site. The topic of my discussion is “DASHIELL HAMMETT IN A GAY MYSTERY.”
Last summer, bedridden for a few months, I read some rather unusual books for a writer of gay romance/mystery. The most notable among those books were written by arguably America’s premium hardboiled-crime author, Samuel Dashiell Hammett.
Most people know that Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon; few know of his earliest works, gathered together in a collection called The Continental Op. Other novels are The Glass Key (my favorite), The Thin Man, and The Dain Curse.
While reading Hammett’s novels, I couldn’t help but picture the man who wrote those chilling, spare, gritty accounts of crime in America’s Prohibition Era and beyond. Hammett himself was as gaunt as William Powell, the actor who starred in the film “The Thin Man.” and is pictured on the book cover. A heavy smoker, he had contracted tuberculosis in his early twenties, a disease which finally killed him. Ironically, the “hero” of his Continental Op series was heavy-set and nameless. But the protagonist of The Dain Curse is much like I imagine the author: thin, quiet, intense, obsessed by a code of ethics, faithful to his friends until they break his moral code.
Let me back up a little and tell you that I’d already written a trilogy of gay retro books called “The Gaslight Mysteries” set in 1923 Ireland. One of the protagonists of my series, private investigator Michael McCree, is also a secret agent for a shadow organization. Enough said.
It turns out that Dashiell Hammett was a covert op for an internationally famous detective agency from 1917 until 1922, and he grew up on the East Coast of the U.S.A. My character Michael, even though based in the fictional Irish city Dun Linden, had been born in Boston. Wait! He could have known—even worked with—my fictional Michael! They would have been just one year apart in age.
Voilà. A story is born. From my mental picture of Hammett and his background, the novel Thin as Smoke evolved.
I need to issue a disclaimer: The character of Sam Dashiell Hammett that emerges from my book is absolutely a figment of my fevered brain. To me, he seems real, in the same way my gay couple Michael and Simon are real to me. But except for my sticking to a few historical facts, he is entirely my own unique man.
Here is an excerpt from Thin as Smoke, describing the scene when Hammett first appears, through the eyes of closeted PI Simon Hart. The men are sitting in a “Molly house,” a gay tavern, the selected meeting site of the undercover ops.
A muffled cough, a shimmer of silken shirt, the smell of a man’s cologne… Simon felt the presence of a stranger before he saw his shadowed face. A man, a very slender man, was leaning over Michael, his mouth close to his ear. Yet Simon heard his words clearly.
“May I have this dance?”
Michael seemed as startled by the intrusion as Simon. He saw his companion begin to shake his head in automatic denial. And then his eyebrows shot up, and his jaw slackened a little. Leaning close to Simon, he mouthed, “Finally,” and then he lifted his head and grinned at the gangly man.
“Sure. Love to, me dally.”
He stood. A languid hand seized his, drew him away from the table and into the crowd.
Simon sat dumbfounded for a few minutes, not hearing the music or seeing anyone in the cluster of bodies except for Michael groin to groin with a thin, even gaunt, yet not-so-bad-looking partner.
Even from a twenty-foot distance, in the wavering light, through a film of smoke, Simon could see the man’s features. The languorous dancer had a shock of dark hair combed straight back from a narrow face, and over his top lip crouched the razor’s edge of a mustache. His eyes were unreadable. Black, heavy-lidded, almost deliberately expressionless. Dusky smudges under the eyes bespoke either sickness or sleepless nights, or both. Below the dark circles, his prominent cheekbones reminded Simon of a bird of prey. A raven…or a vulture.
He shuddered. Who is this creature, and why is my gut in knots looking at him?
Again, I really appreciate your inviting me to your blog, Catherine. Below you’ll find a brief bio, an avatar, and a few links to my Gaslight Mystery series. Other links available if anyone needs them.
Erin O’Quinn sprang from the high desert hills of Nevada, from a tiny town which no longer exists. A truant officer dragged her kicking and screaming to grade school, too late to attend kindergarten; and since that time her best education has come from the ground she’s walked and the people she’s met.
The Gaslight Mysteries
Heart to Hart http://amzn.to/1jpCURl
Sparring with Shadows http://amzn.to/1h2hXdy
To the Bone http://amzn.to/1jpCZVh
Thin as Smoke http://amzn.to/1VluTZH
Masters of Cane (in progress)