Classic Crime

Joseph Hansen

Joseph Hansen was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota on the 19th July 1923. He grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and California.
Both a poet and a writer, Hansen is best known for his series featuring gay insurance investigator, Dave Brandstetter. The first, Fadeout was published in 1970 followed by eleven more cases.

Joseph Hansen wrote under different pseudonyms at the beginning of his writing career. As James Colton he published Strange Marriage and Known Homosexual He also wrote two Gothic novels as Rose Brock.

Despite writing almost forty books, it was for his ground-breaking series featuring Brandstetter that made his name. Brandstetter was reminiscent of the hardboiled gumshoe from the days of Raymond Chandler – but he just happened to be gay.

Hansen was married to artist Jane Bancroft who was herself a lesbian. Their marriage lasted from 1943 until her death in 1994. He said their relationship was that of a gay man and a woman who happened to love each other. The couple had one daughter, who later had a sex-change operation. According to a friend quoted in an obituary, Hansen also had two long-term male lovers. Hansen disliked the term ‘gay’ and always referred to himself as ‘homosexual’. Hansen died in 2004 at his home in California.

Review: Fadeout

Fox Olsen’s white convertible had skidded and careened off the bridge at some speed, plunging the singer and DJ to his early demise. The only strange thing was there is no body and in this part of the river it would have been found very quickly. It is this conundrum that causes Dave Brandstetter to be standing on that very bridge looking over the precipice.

Olsen’s wife, daughter and manager all said it would be discovered very soon, but as Brandstetter begins to question the local folk he finds that not all is rosy in the Garden of Eden. Olsen’s wife and his manager seem just a little too friendly with each other and the discovery of a friend of Olson’s from twenty years back caused old emotions to stir once more.

Brandstetter will play a big part in this drama with the sad tale finishing in a washed up seaside town called Bell Beach before he can call it a day.

‘Fadeout’ introduces Dave Brandstetter who is an insurance investigator in the mould of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Brandstetter comes from that same stable – he just happens to be gay. Don’t let this piece of info fool you – I certainly wouldn’t want to bump in to Brandstetter in a dark alley if I was on the wrong side of the law.

From the first book we find out that Brandstetter is grieving for the loss of his partner, Rob to cancer. He tries to come to terms with events as he delves in to the insurance case of Fox Olsen.

Hansen is an author I have been meaning to read for many years – but for some reason never got round to. However, with a new re-issue from Hodder this year I thought it the perfect opportunity to finally read this guy – and am I pleased I did. Hansen’s characters are perfectly rounded and fully formed. Within the construct of such a short book, Hansen gave me so much more than your average book of twice its size. It felt as though I was reading a Noir classic from the 30’s rather than one published forty years later in 1970.

What I wasn’t expecting was the raw emotion that Hansen evoked throughout this sad tale of deceit and self-denial which all leads to murder and retribution. Hansen really played with my emotions in a totally unexpected way.

Yes, there is the ‘gay’ issue but it isn’t overpowering. It just happens to be part of the book’s DNA without taking over the proceedings. For me, this was a real surprise and a very pleasant one at that. I will now be asking myself why I didn’t read Hansen years ago – but then again, maybe the time wasn’t right. However, I will be pressing this little gem in to the hands of friends who I think will also see what a genius Hansen was with words.

Reviewed by: C.S.

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