Joseph Hansen Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Joseph Hansen’s novels featuring David Brandstetter, the sympathetic and wary insurance claims investigator who happens to be gay, are unusual in a genre in which machismo is an essential element. Writing in the tradition of Ross Macdonald and Raymond Chandler, Hansen is clinical, unsentimental, and compelling. Over the years, Brandstetter finds a lover and learns more about himself. As Hansen moves his private investigator about, he provides a sense of the ordinariness of gay life. His intelligent and sensitive style draws readers to the plot and characters, stressing the universal characteristics of his hero’s homosexual lifestyle. Although his novels fit into the Sam Spade-Philip Marlowe-Lew Archer mold—aging detective, sunny California, a society rife with corruption—Hansen provides fresh angles, third-person narrative, coolly realistic locales, and flawless dialogue to demonstrate the ways in which people juggle their morals to suit their needs. In the process, Hansen creates complex human experiences and enriches the mystery and detective genre.

Though Hansen was not the first to depict a gay detective—George Baxt preceded him by several years with novels featuring flamboyant black homosexual detective Pharoah Love—Hansen was recognized for his skillful and sensitive treatment of gays as human beings. Hansen’s Gravedigger (1982) was nominated for the 1983 Shamus Award as best novel, and he received an Edgar nomination in 1984 for “The Anderson Boy” and a Shamus nomination in 1987 for “Merely Players.” The Out/Look Foundation in 1991 honored Hansen for outstanding contributions to the lesbian and gay communities, and he won Lambda Literary Awards in 1992 for Country of Old Men (1991) and in 1994 for Living Upstairs (1993). He received the Private Eye Writers of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Breen, Jon L. Introduction to The Fine Art of Murder: The Mystery Reader’s Indispensable Companion, edited by Ed Gorman, Martin H. Greenberg, and Larry Segriff with Jon L Breen. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1993. Cites Hansen as creator of the first realistic gay detective and provides a brief history of homosexuality in mystery fiction.

Callendar, Newgate. “Criminals at Large.” Review of Death Claims, by Joseph Hansen. The New York Times Book Review, January 21, 1973, p. 26. Praises Hansen—labeled of “the Ross Macdonald school”—for managing to avoid clichés while engaging the reader in the emotional problems of his gay hero and notes his smooth handling of crime elements and his plausible denouement.

Clemons, Walter. “The New Stellar Sleuths.” Review of Gravedigger, by Joseph Hansen. Newsweek 99, no. 23 (June 7, 1982): 71-72. Favorable review focuses especially on the writing in the story in which Brandstetter investigates a claim made by a financially and sexually unstable father concerning his missing daughter, who is possibly a victim of a cult.

DeAndrea, William L. Encyclopedia Mysteriosa: A Comprehensive Guide to the Art of Detection in Print, Film, Radio, and Television. New York: Prentice Hall, 1994. Brief entries on Hansen and on his gay detective, Dave...

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