A Country of Old Men

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When Dave’s old friend Madge Dunstan finds a poor abused Hispanic child who has witnessed the murder of drugged-out rock star Cricket Shales, Dave is once again hauled out of retirement of solve the case. What initially looks like a simple drug deal gone sour, quickly becomes more complicated when it emerges that a host of people have reasons to want the junkie guitarist dead: former lovers, jealous record producers, influential politicians, high-profile drug counselors. Dave takes all of this on, at the same time getting involved in another quest, a revisiting of the past, when he meets up with his high school friend, the crime novelist Jack Helmers (a character bearing an uncanny resemblance to Hansen himself). Helmers is believed to be writing a no-holds-barred autobiographical novel which former classmates would like to squelch, and Dave finds himself unwittingly and dangerously embroiled in the controversy.

But the dangers in the novel are really more internal than external. Nearing seventy, Dave is still recognizable as the lean, blond GQ type he has always been, but he is now weary, stiff-jointed, in need of naps, and, most ominously, betrayed by a failing heart. Much of the novel’s suspense in fact derives form the race to find the murderer before Dave’s tired heart gives out. Old age is clearly a country of reduced pleasures and physical humiliations, but even here, confronting his own mortality, Dave is his quietly assured, splendidly decent self.

Having charted Dave Brandstetter’s career for twenty-one years, Hansen now provides him with a fitting farewell. All of the author’s characteristic touches are here—the elaborate, deftly paced plot, the vividly created characters, the evocative prose full of gritty urban imagery, the unique integration of gay and lesbian experience into the book’s texture. But what is new is the novel’s autumnal tone. In many ways it is as much a wry and compassionate meditation on aging and the inevitability of death as it is a riveting and cleverly executed murder mystery.