A guest review by Tj
Summary Review: A well crafted third book in the Dave Brandstetter series which tests Dave with more questions than answers, a plethora of suspects and a sculptor trying to open up Dave and Doug’s relationship.
The Blurb: Who killed gay bar owner and all-around nice guy Rick Wendell? Was it Larry Johns, the attractive young man found wiping his prints off the still-smoking gun mere moments after the murder? If so, why was Johns naked? And what happened to the large sum of money Wendell had just withdrawn from the bar’s bank account? Hard-boiled, openly gay insurance claims investigator Dave Brandstetter aims to find out in Troublemaker, the third volume in Joseph Hansen’s legendary and critically acclaimed Brandstetter mystery series.
A Dave Brandstetter Mystery Series
The Review: After reading the first two books in this series, my expectations were pretty high, so I have to admit that I opened Troublemaker with a little trepidation, thinking that there was no way that this book could meet that high standard. But once again Joseph Hansen’s fine writing won me over in this very interesting mystery with lots of twists and turns and enough guilty parties to keep me guessing until the end.
I think the blurb perfectly represents the general tone of Troublemaker – lots and lots of questions, but so few answers. Dave says it better than I ever could:
“I’m into a case that’s like a jigsaw too many little kids have fooled with on too many rainy Saturday afternoons. Half the pieces are missing.”
Poor Dave. Things aren’t going smoothly this time around. But persevere he does and once again we’re rewarded with some interesting insights into human nature – specifically the troubling way that some people try to control the ones that they are supposed to love unconditionally. There are lies being told and information withheld from loved ones “for their own good” when in reality it’s a way to control them. This theme is explored throughout the book within varied relationship dynamics; sisters and brothers, mothers and sons, older men and younger men.
But regardless of the relationship’s basis, Mr. Hansen highlights how an unequal balance of power often skews control, which presented in various ways; emotional, physical, and of course financial. But in all cases the deception, manipulation and seemingly innocent lies have unexpected and in one instance, deadly consequences.
As we’ve enjoyed in the previous books, Mr. Hansen again treats us to visual imagery that brings the settings to life.
“Out the open door of Lucky’s came an eye-stinging smell of pine disinfectant. Inside, someone short and fat, cocooned in a big white apron, mopped a floor of worn black vinyl tile. Like big metal insects stunned by the smell, stools stood legs up on the bar, chairs on little tables.”
This is why Hansen’s writing is so revered. By linking the strong pine smell to a sensory reaction (eye-stinging), Hansen taps into the reader’s sense memory. This, added to the visual analogy – stunned insects on their backs, legs in the air (which cleverly made me think of insecticide – another strong smell), really made this scene pop. When I realized what Hansen did, I just shook my head in amazement.
Troublemaker also gives us more insight into the mid seventies era and how gay men lived and for many, hid who they were for fear of not only physical harm, but also the potential legal and financial ramifications. Although Dave is openly gay, he doesn’t have to fear losing his job since he works for his father.
Speaking of his father, there’s a cleverly written scene where Carl talks about Dave’s future with the company, in a surprisingly honest way:
“You plan to go freelance when I die, I hope. Because you know the board will fire you. And why”
To which Dave replies:
“I like the job, but I feel about it the way you feel about your heart. I’m not ready to give up my sex life for it.”
And regarding Dave’s sex life, Doug is back as well and we see how the boys are managing to move beyond their respective past loves and forge a relationship. But to paraphrase Shakespeare the course of true love does not run smoothly. Fate has thrown at them another test in the form of a talented sculptor who has designs on being with both guys, much to their consternation. I was very entertained with how Dave dealt with this.
I have been purposely avoiding going into plot details in my reviews of these books as I feel that much of the joy in reading them (aside from the beautiful prose) is in the unfolding of the well crafted plots. Mr. Hansen is quite adept at drawing the reader in and keeping their interest to the end. So I hope I’ve given you enough about other aspects to interest you, because once again Joseph Hansen has written beautiful prose, a well crafted plot, interesting characters and settings that are skillfully brought to life. I highly recommend Troublemaker.