Title: Death Claims (A Dave Brandstetter Mystery: Book Two)
Author: Joseph Hansen
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
Pages/Word Count: 170 Pages
At a Glance: Fast pace and a taut plot make for masterful storytelling
Blurb: Death Claims is the second of Joseph Hansen’s acclaimed mysteries featuring ruggedly masculine Dave Brandstetter, a gay insurance investigator. When John Oats’s body is found washed up on a beach, his young lover April Stannard is sure it was no accident. Brandstetter agrees: Oats’s college-age son, the beneficiary of the life insurance, has gone missing.
Review: The ever pragmatic Dave Brandstetter is back in Death Claims, the second book in Joseph Hansen’s critically acclaimed Dave Brandstetter mystery series. Originally published in 1973, these books translate well to the contemporary audience, and are made even more exceptional by the fact the stories’ hero solves the mysteries with nothing more than a keen mind and sharp eye for detail—no computers, no cell phones, just a suspicious mind that demands the truth. They are as timeless as murder is in human history, and it’s with sheer tenacity the investigator leads readers through layer upon layer of motive and suspects before he leads us to the end, solving the cases which reveal the person you might have least expected but are entirely plausible in their guilt. The beauty of these complex cases is that by the time Brandstetter puts all the pieces of the puzzle together, the final piece, the one missing link, is the one which makes perfect sense.
The death in this installment of the series involves what appears to be an accidental drowning, which, as this is a mystery and there needs to be a case for Dave to investigate, turns out to have been no accident. As he sleuths his way through what others believe is the obvious, it appears the victim’s son and beneficiary has the most motive and opportunity to have murdered his sire, especially after their recent parting of the ways. The template for this investigation, however, doesn’t align with the clues Dave unearths as he speaks with those whose lives intersected with those of the victim, John Oats. Why would Peter, with whom the elder Oats had enjoyed such a loving and easy relationship, suddenly kill his father?
John Oats’s death was not a crime of passion but a premeditated murder, as suggested by the composition of the clues surrounding the victim’s final hours. The deeper Dave digs, the more evidence is revealed that nothing should be taken at face value, and it’s his world-weary skepticism that keeps him bulldogging his way to the truth. Breaking and entering, probable cause, illegal search and seizure: these things don’t mean much to Dave. All that matters to him is getting at the truth, and this is what he does, and does so well, to engage and entertain readers. And I must say, in the end, Death Claims is the only book I’ve ever read that comes to an effective and satisfying conclusion…and still feels like it ended in a cliffhanger. What a well played literary technique that was, because I’m now the proud owner of book three in the series.
As a side note in the margins of this novel’s plot, there is a character who figured prominently in Fadeout with whom Dave is just beginning a relationship. Doug Sawyer is no stranger to loss himself—both he and Dave have lost men they loved deeply—and while I caution you that this is not a romance or a relationship driven novel, there are some things revealed about Dave through his interactions with Doug which soften some of this hardnosed and dogged detective’s harder edges. It makes Dave himself a bit less of a mystery.
If you’ve ever run across a series that has made you think to yourself, I wish I’d discovered these books years ago, this is that series for me. There is a formula to them that will never be stale, not as long as there is murder afoot and a great mystery to be solved.
You can buy Death Claims here: