Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
Finalist for the Lambda Award in Gay Mystery, Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries takes place in Chicago during the early 1980s. Haunted by his abrupt departure from the Chicago Police Department and the end of his relationship with librarian Daniel Laverty, Nick Nowak is a beat cop-turned-dogged private investigator. In this first book of the series, Nick works through three cases: a seemingly simple missing persons search, an arson investigation, and a suicide that turns out to be anything but. While working the cases, Nick moves through a series of casual relationships until he meets homicide detective Bert Harker and begins a tentative relationship.
Marshall Thornton’s other stories made me a die hard fan but these? Made me want to go out and plant some sort of narrative equivalent of the gold star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. How Nick Novak would have hated that. Probably Marshall Thornton too.
Also I’ve already read far ahead in this magnificent series. Had I not done that, this story would have rated higher but I have the truly stunning, haunting stories ahead as comparison. Fair or not, I know that is but a solid, excellent building block for the gritty unforgettable heartbreak to come.
Its is funny thing about historical fiction. Writing stories too far ahead and authors run the risk of readers who either have little interest or knowledge of those eras in which they are writing. That can be from ancient Greece all the way through Edwardian times. Hell, I’ll throw the Civil War in there, embarrassingly enough. Then you have what many call the recent historical fiction, stories written maybe a mere decades away from our current times. That’s a completely different animal as they say because so many readers still remember those times. That’s where this series fits in.
Boystowns and this first book which contains three Nick Novak tales takes place in the 1980’s. For gay men in Chicago (or anywhere), it’s a time of change. Almost entirely forgotten are those hated days of being called perverts and jailed automatically. Now gay flags are flying. Gay sex means quick anonymous hookups, rampant promiscuity, a sense of freedom after being in the closet and being jailed for your sexuality. OK, yes, you could still lose your job in places, yes you still need to be circumspect in some areas of your life but men are out and gay. There are Pride Parades and PFlag. But still there’s gay bashing. And also the first whispers of a mysterious gay flu spreading through parts of the population of gay men in the United States.
Thornton brings the 80’s back with electric typewriters, disco music, cars and all the other items of the day that scream that era but nicely folded into the narrative in such a way that it’s a subtle reminder rather than a blaring signpost. Always at the center is Nick Novak, the ultimate reminder himself. It’s in his behavior, one hookup after the other, doesn’t matter whether hes’ on the job or not. It’s in his mannerisms and in the way he talks and the way he lives. It also doesn’t matter whether he’s in a relationship or not. Monogamy is not Nick’s thing here. Nor was it in the 80’s. Remember that was more of a heteronormative “thing”. Plus casual sex, swinging sex? Sex in the parks, bathhouses, no condoms? That was the norm of the day and Nick is the king follower.
There will be many readers out there who dismiss books because of what they consider “cheating” elements. But you have to understand the times. This is not a romance book, that was not the 80’s. Don’t go into these complicated, messy emotional stories with those expectations. But these are stories filled with love of many types.
Nick and his first love were victims of a horrendous gay bashing. It cost Nick his job as a police office and his lover, who underwent many facial reconstruction surgeries. He left Nick when he felt that Nick didn’t stick up for him. Nick is still working his way through the emotional impact of that event when we meet him here.
The stories are gritty and real. The people you meet are sometimes ugly, mean, or tired and sad. Even the sex feels dirty at times. But it comes across as authentic and haunting, especially as you know the context. We know the history. And with each story Nick grapples more with his own recovery and past history, trying to move forward.
I can’t being to tell you how remarkable this series it. As I said these three stories represent only the beginning building blocks for the truly stunning, heart grabbers to come.
There isn’t a missed step narratively speaking. It’s perfection. Marshall Thornton is building a masterpiece. All ten books.
Start on your journey with him and Nick Novak here.
Cover art is simple, evocative of mood of the stories.
Kindle Edition, 241 pages
Published January 9th 2015 (first published November 1st 2009)
SeriesBoystown #1 settingChicago, Illinois (United States)
Illinois (United States)
Boystown Bundle 1 – 3 – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #4 A Time For Secrets – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #5 Murder Book – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #6 From The Ashes – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #7 Bloodlines – Amazon US | Amazon UK (ON SALE for 99c)
Book #8 The Lies That Bind – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #9 Lucky Days – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #10 Gifts Given – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #11 Hearts Desire – Amazon US | Amazon UK (PREORDER)