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The Sartorial Senator (A Nick Williams Mystery) (Volume 3) Paperback – January 23, 2017
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Imagine (as the author did) the Perry Mason books if everyone was gay (and, we all know that the television incarnation of Mason, Raymond Burr, was himself gay, although closeted as celebrities of his generation had to be). Try to wrap your mind around the idea of Perry Mason and Paul Drake as a couple, living in a neighborhood called Eureka Valley that would later become the Castro.
Wild, see? Nick Williams and his boyfriend Carter Jones are a kind of gay Batman and Robin, and I can’t help but love them. Nick’s secretary, Marnie Wilson (hello, Della Street) plays Alfred to this dynamic duo, but in book 3 we get Marnie’s mother, who had me wide-eyed and smiling whenever she appeared on the page. Of course, Nick and Carter’s friends—all of whom have suffered homophobic injustice in the land of the free—create a supportive Greek chorus (ahem)
Thus far, the three-part Nick Williams series has only covered about a month’s chronological time, and the books have given us a lot of murder and other assorted mayhem. As book three starts, Nick and Carter are sailing up from Mexico to Los Angeles on their new yacht (don’t ask) when things start to get weird, again. A murder in Washington, D.C. takes them on a cross-country adventure to find a killer, while exploring one of the more esoteric aspects of “the life” in the nation’s capital.
In the end, I had to stop trying to think too hard about Frank Butterfield’s fantasy world and just embrace it. His writing and language, and his sense of place and detail is spot on: it feels like 1953 in America, from the cars to the clothes, from the cigarettes to the perils of air travel. Throw in the kind of startling historical details—Senator Joe McCarthy and a very young Robert F. Kennedy—and you have a slick, amusing detective story that reminds us all that there were a lot of gay people living and surviving in America back in the bad old days.