Boystown 4: A Time for Secrets – Marshall Thornton (MLR Press)

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Buy it direct from MLR Press

I owe Marshall Thornton an apology. You see, he sent me the
first three entries in the Boystown Series (novellas, not full-length works)
some time ago, but I was unable to get to them before they slipped through the
cracks. With approximately three requests a week to review someone’s book,
those cracks get pretty big. So, when Boystown 4: A Time for Secrets
came along, I gave it as much priority as I could. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Gay Chicago PI Nick Nowack is enlisted by the man who saved
him and his partner from a gay basher, now retired and in search of a lost
love. Nowack takes the case out of pity and payback, but soon finds himself
involved in three murders which may or may not have been carried out by a
candidate for mayor. Plus, his partner has just been diagnosed with AIDS, which
is so new it’s still called GRID.

What a delight to find yet another interesting gay detective
series. Greg Herren and Jean Redmann have New Orleans covered, Joseph DeMarco
has the Philadelphia market cornered, Anthony Bidulka gets Canada, and Val
MacDermid is all over the British Isles. Thornton takes 1980s Chicago and makes
it his own with Nick Nowack. All of these series have marvelous color and a
terrific sense of place, and Thornton’s Nowack is no exception.

Nowack is a marvelous character—an irascible yet believable
one who loves his partner but can’t help being promiscuous (more on those sex
scenes later). Despite this predilection, he has a strong sense of loyalty and
ethics and is achingly earnest in dealing with his clients. He is truly
multifacted and a character you’d be willing to follow to the end of any
mystery.

And what a crackerjack mystery this is. Through twists and
turns, tying the murder of his client and the man his client hired him to find
to the killing of a children’s TV show host in the 1950s, Nowack strikes a blow
not only for the individuals but for the gay rights movement at large. His
confrontations with his moneyed, well-connected suspect are immensely
satisfying, and the conclusion is not exactly what you’d expect. Or maybe it’s
exactly what you’d expect, depending on your level of cynicism. 

There are some graphic sex scenes—which makes this mystery
more erotica than some of the aforementioned ones. I must say the first couple
seemed out of place, but the more I thought about it, the more context they
acquired. Gratuitous sex was the norm in the late 1970s and very early 1980s
(before AIDS was found to be sexually transmitted), maybe more out of
desperation and fear than anything else. And having a partner diagnosed with an
unknown disease which is killing their friends, fear and desperation become
understandable indeed.

Boystown 4: A Time for Secrets is a great read and a welcome
addition to anyone’s mystery shelf. In future, I shall be more careful about
what slips through my cracks.

Shut up, Bill.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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