Author: Joseph Hansen
Publisher: Mulholland Books (Orig. Publication – 1975)
Pages/Word Count: 272 Pages
At a Glance: Another great mystery, though doesn’t keep pace with the first two in the series
Blurb: Rick Wendell’s ranch is far from town. A remote, dusty hideaway, its only inhabitants are Rick, his aging mother, and her horses. One night, Rick’s mother returns from the movies to find Rick lying on the floor, stark naked and with a gaping bullet wound in his chest. Standing over him is his lover, a mustachioed hippie, who swears he did not fire the gun that he’s holding. The case seems open-and-shut, but Dave Brandstetter is not satisfied.
An insurance investigator with an unusually keen sense of detection, Dave is openly gay and professionally skeptical. Something about the murder causes him to trust the alleged killer—and seriously doubt Rick’s mother.
Review: If ever a book has been more aptly named, Troublemaker is it. Joseph Hansen reveals more than just a murder victim and a killer in this, the third installment in the Dave Brandstetter mystery series. Hansen reveals in no uncertain terms that Dave is not only an unpopular fellow but isn’t averse to stirring the pot to solve a crime, regardless of whom he offends and/or ticks off in the process. Dave isn’t a death claims investigator for Medallion Life to win friends and influence people. He’s a death claims investigator to prevent fraudulent payouts on life insurance policies, and he’s by god going to do everything he can to look beyond the easy answers and dig down to the stinky and sordid secrets always lurking beneath the obvious.
Unlike the previous two books in the series, I must start by saying I didn’t feel Troublemaker flowed as effortlessly. There were several things happening at once in this novel, the first being the murder investigation, obviously. The parallel plotlines running alongside it, however, were of a personal nature, one involving Dave’s relationship with Doug—Doug’s mother is suffering from psychotic episodes during which she hallucinates, which is causing strain on Doug as well as his relationship with Dave. While this serves its purpose—to offer a more domestic interlude, showing a little personal chaos must also fall amidst the professional—I felt it to be a heavy storyline against which to contrast the core plot, especially when added to what Dave is facing with his own father, i.e., a health scare. While all these things may be necessary to future developments in the series, I felt they did bog down the pacing of this installment. And as a side note, there is also what seemed an aimless introduction of a young artist who is bent upon insinuating himself as a third wheel in Dave and Doug’s relationship. While a playful devise used to show that Dave is a one man sort of guy, it was resolved so handily and without incident that it was easy to dismiss.
One of the side stories that did work well is the further examination of Dave’s relationship with his father, Carl. Carl Brandstetter is more accepting of Dave’s sexuality than many sixty-five year old men in the late 1960s may have been, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t averse to hinting that Dave ought to give up the gay lifestyle and settle down with a woman. One of the socially relevant commentaries in Dave and Carl’s relationship—perhaps more significant today, with marriage equality in the fore, is the contrast of Dave’s committed partnership with his deceased lover, Rod, and now the one he’s attempting to build with Doug (read: monogamous), to Carl’s serial bastardizing of the state of holy matrimony. The man’s on his ninth wife, so apply that to the argument that marriage equality will diminish the sanctity of marriage as a whole, and go ahead and have a bit of a chuckle at the irony of Hansen’s prescience.
As is typical of this series, the investigation of the death of Rick Wendell, owner of the gay bar The Hang Ten, seems cut and dried when the author introduces the facts. But, where Dave goes, things are never as they appear on the surface. With Larry Johns imprisoned–the man deemed guilty because every shred of evidence, save for one very important piece, seems to point directly at him—it wouldn’t seem Dave should have much to do, but where there is greed, jealousy, and the human condition involved, it’s a guarantee that, as Mr. Wilde once wrote, “The truth is rarely pure and ever simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!”
Dave proceeds through the investigation of Wendell’s murder in his trademark style, with a bulldog tenacity and “screw you if you don’t like it” attitude. While you might think by this point that reading three consecutive mysteries in a single series would begin to weigh tedious, not to mention become repetitious, I have to say that couldn’t be less the case. Hansen is a master craftsman with a gift for turning a phrase and painting a picture with words: “Backgrounding him, the Pacific wrote white scribbles to itself on blue slate under a wide smile of sky. The surf lipped pale sand beyond a stagger of red dune fence.”
And that is the way Hansen sets a mood.
You can buy Troublemaker here: