History of Gay Mystery Fiction

Joseph Hansen, author of the mystery series about an openly gay insurance investigator.
Joseph Hansen, author of the mystery series about an openly gay insurance investigator.
Popular mystery series featuring a gay private investigator? Even today, in the year 2012, this is still a touchy subject for many, and a decided niche, or sub-category within the mystery genre. Many of these novels (and series) are popular, successful and even award-winning, yet they remain out of the mainstream limelight. Even more curious is that this style of book has been around almost as long as the traditional mystery/PI novel itself.

Perhaps the most well-known and critically acclaimed author of such novels is Joseph Hansen. This author published almost forty books in a wide variety of genres, but is best remembered for his groundbreaking series of crime novels starring his most iconic creation, Dave Brandstetter, an openly gay insurance investigator who still embodied the tough, no-nonsense personality of the classic hardboiled private investigator type of protagonist. The first in the series, Fadeout, was published in 1970, and over the next twenty-one years eleven more entries in the series were written: Death Claims (1973), Troublemaker (1975), The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of (1978), Skinflick (1979), Gravedigger (1982), Nightwork (1984), The Little Dog Laughed (1986), Early Graves (1987), Obedience (1988), The Boy Who Was Buried This Morning (1990), and A Country of Old Men (1991). No Exit Books, a British publisher, issued an omnibus volume, The Complete Brandstetter, in 2007.

Since then there have been many wonderful series created by a variety of authors, featuring out and closeted gay crime fighters, from police officers to private eyes to hairdressers who like to sleuth on the side (Stan Kraychick series by Grant Michaels, first book is A Body To Dye For). Mark Richard Zubro has written the Tom & Scott series, about a high school teacher and his boyfriend, a professional baseball player.  The first book is A Simple Suburban Murder.

Death Trick by Richard Stevenson
Death Trick by Richard Stevenson
In recent years, these types of books have received a warmer embrace, and even nods to the excellent writing, originality, and staying power they have. The Donald Strachey series by Richard Stevenson (first book is Death Trick) have been made into movies starring Chad Allen. Strachey is involved in a monogamous relationship with a New York State Senate staffer (Sebastian Spence). The series’ first film, Third Man Out, dealt with the controversial subject of outing while the second film, Shock to the System, saw Strachey investigate an ex-gay “reparative therapy” group. On the Other Hand, Death has our hero delving into gay hate crimes and the difficulties faced by LGBT teens. A resource for gay teens contemplating suicide, The Trevor Project, is prominently mentioned in the film. The fourth installment in the franchise is titled Ice Blues and will be premiering in the fall and co-starring Sherry Miller (Queer as Folk).

Even the popular Jonathan Kellerman has jumped on the bandwagon. His Alex Delaware detective series, which began in 1985, features Milo Sturgis, a gay LAPD detective. Delaware helps Sturgis in his investigations, and the detective who eventually reaches the rank of lieutenant appears in each book in the series. As the series progresses, Delaware’s relationship with Robin Castagna evolves, despite a long separation, during which various other romantic interests are introduced.

I personally hope the trend continues on its upward trajectory, and that more lovers of mystery fiction will give these types of novels a try. There is nothing more delicious than finding a wonderful new author to curl up with.

Happy Reading!

Liz Strange is the author of Missing Daughter, Shattered Family (David Lloyd Investigations #1), a modern-day PI novel with a secondary romantic storyline. The main character is a former police officer, now out gay PI working in the tough urban jungle of Toronto.

Read all posts by Liz Strange for Criminal Element.


  1. Wanda

    Try the Adrien English series of 5 books by Josh Lanyon. Adrien is a bookstore owner who falls in love with Jake, a closeted cop. Excellent series with great characterization, lots of humor, lots of sorrow, and great mysteries. Each book is complete, with an overall series arc. Unlike in some series, the characters in this series grow and develop over time.

  2. Jason Sebastian

    This is an embarrassingly sketchy article about a huge subgenre made up of a rich and diverse gang of fictional detectives. It’s hardly a history of gay mysteries; it’s barely an overview. How can you call this a history and omit everything prior to Hansen? No mention of Pharoah Love (created by George Baxt back in the 60s) – arguably the first truly out gay private eye. And a black gay man as well. No mention of THE GAY DETECTIVE and the sleaze market. No real research done here.

    More than half of all gay mysteries are published by indie publishers or self-publishing outfits which is why I think this subgenre will always remain sort of in the closet as far as mainstream publishing and the mainstream reading audience is concerned. I think they like it that way. No mystery there at all.

  3. Carmilla

    I quite agree with you Jason, in that I could have written a novel about the subject matter. This is simply a taste of the wonderful world of gay mysteries (and other GLBT genre fiction) available to readers. The fact that Criminal Element was interested in pursuing this area seemed a positive thing in itself, and I count myself lucky to be included with such a wealth of talent.

    As for the indie publishing comment, I can only suggest that we need to support these outlets more to help bring this too often overlooked segment of the literary world out to more readers. I am very proud to be with MLR Press, and hope to continue writing for them for many years to come.

    Happy reading!!
    Liz Strange

  4. Karl Stenger

    Michael Nava definitely needs to be included.

  5. Andrew Beck

    Lev Raphael!

  6. Anne Marie

    Why the empasis on only gay male writers? Where are the Lesbian writers?

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