Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind


The eighth book in Marshall Thornton's "Boystown" mystery series finds gay private detective Nick Nowak and his new boyfriend (and former Catholic priest) Joseph Biernecki all hot and bothered. It's the summer of 1984, and Chicago is hotter than hell.

What better time for a new mystery to tumble into Nick's lap?

The new case begins with a phone call in the wee hours from ambitious young reporter Christian Baylor, a recurring character whose puppyish energy and general cluelessness irritate Nick. But even at 3 a.m. -- and even given that it's Christian on the line -- Nick can't help but be intrigued at what he hears: A man has been shot -- a man who then came banging at Christian's door calling for help, only to die in Christian's bathroom.

Once he's on the scene, Nick can see there's more to the story than Christian is telling. But getting the truth from the younger man is impossible, and as lie follows lie and the mystery deepens, Nick starts to realize that what's going on might have something to do with clashes he's had in the past, both with the deeply homophobic Chicago police force and with the criminal element.

Even as he's sorting out the question of who shot the mystery man, and whether Christian was the killer's intended target all along, Nick finds himself looking into the S&M scene, investigating a rich and possibly ruthless real estate magnate, clashing with a new foe on the Chicago police force, juggling his jealousy toward Joseph even as he turns the occasional trick himself, and navigating the reappearance of one of his oldest and closest friends -- Ross Buckley, a former lover now sick with the so-called "gay plague," who has finally decided to escape the clutches of his religious family.

With so much on the plate, you wonder how Nick -- or Thornton, for that matter -- is going to deal with everything. In fact, these novels being somewhat serialized, not everything is neatly tied up; the case at hand is solved, but there are larger forces at work, and darker puzzles to be pieced together, and they have to do with Nick's mobbed-up associate Jimmy English. Book 9 can't come fast enough.

Meantime, Book 8 continues to do what the previous installments in the series have done so well, which is to evoke both the time -- the 1980s -- and the place -- Chicago -- with acutely well-judged detail. There's a fair amount of relationship angst here, too, but the series moves through time realistically when it comes to matters of the heart. This is the first book where Nick doesn't reflect upon eh loss of his first serious boyfriend after a gay-bashing incident that had the effect of outing him to the guys on the police force and ending his career as a cop; but the loss of Harker (who, at this point, has been dead for two years, killed at the hands of a gay-targeting serial killer) still rings through Nick like a chime of mourning. It makes sense: Nick can't simply forget Harker now that he's taken on something of a custodial role for a gay teen who was chucked out by his gay-hating parents, and he's sharing that responsibility with Harker's mother among others.

Those ever-more-complicated social and family connections keep this series fresh and engaging, probably more so than the ongoing repercussions of past events that rattle through the city's underground and stir up more trouble with each new volume.

These mystery stories are well written and great fun to read, but they also preserve a crucial piece of GLBT history. What's more, they are a depiction of gay community in all its complexity, sort of a "Queer As Folk" with an ankle holster. They deserve more careful handling, not to mention the attention of major publishing houses, and it's a pity they aren't accorded that kind of status.

"Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind"
Publication Date: Feb. 19, 2016

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