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REVIEW: “Fadeout” by Joseph Hansen


Fadeout is the first of Joseph Hansen’s twelve classic mysteries featuring rugged Dave Brandstetter, an insurance investigator who is contentedly gay. When entertainer Fox Olson’s car plunges off a bridge in a storm, a death claim is filed, but where is Olson’s body? As Brandstetter questions family, fans, and detractors, he grows certain Olson is still alive and that Dave must find him before the would-be killer does. Suspenseful and wry, shrewd and deeply felt, Fadeout remains as fresh today as when it startled readers more than thirty years ago.



What a wonderful, wonderful surprise this story was!

You go in there thinking that you’ll read about a mystery and that’s about it. Indeed you do : what happened to Fox Olson? This is what it is about.

But as the story goes, and the insurance detective Dave Brandstetter worms his way into homes and lives, you discover that you’re reading about people. People who didn’t write the books they ought to have written, who didn’t live the life they ought to have lived, who did their best or worst, made mistakes, went along with the flow or tried to swim against the current, who were, are aiming at happiness – whatever this word means to them. What of them all? That’s what it is about too.

All those lives and their own stakes weave a tangled web Dave has to untangle to find the truth. And we’re back to the mystery. You may think you have things figured out way before the end, but the development keeps a few twists and turns in store. Many suspects, many motives, but who did act on them? Did anyone act on them?

Now, what about Dave Brandstetter? He is a clever detective and a decent man.  He is also mourning the death of his long time partner; hurting and full of regrets, but moving through grief, straightening up and looking ahead. Beyond cleverness and decency, I like how lucid and healthy he is. Just like this story is, despite its undeniable bittersweet flavour. And that’s just the thing : it reflects human weaknesses, struggles, highs and lows, but it is not wallowing in self-pitying angst. Yet, how moving it is at times!

In the same way, it is about a gay character, and it doesn’t make a fuss about it. The cherry on the cake is to read in 2014 this book that was first released in 1970, and try to grasp the casual audacity Joseph Hansen showed in writing a gay MC  back then,  making it sound nonetheless like he is saying : “Dave Brandstetter is my main character and he is gay. So what?! I have a story to tell, let’s get to it.”  Hansen’s style is economical, deceptively simple; the sentences are short,  the prose is anything but over-the-top. The story development is efficient and smart, the pace doesn’t falter, the carefully chosen words ring loud and clear, and strike home. The whole is a beautiful piece of craft.

Don’t go there looking for a romance. The ending hints at something that may be developed in the sequel, but Dave is not quite there yet. That doesn’t mean that you will not read about love, though.  As a matter of fact, I’ll quote Dave quoting poetry to conclude :

“The weight of the world is love. Under the burden of solitude, under the burden of dissatisfaction, the weight, the weight we carry is love.”


Strongly recommended.





Ami : 4 stars



Title: Fadeout (Dave Brandstetter #1)
Author: Joseph Hansen
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
Pages: 187 pages
Release Date:  November 4th 2004  (first published 1970)
Purchase links : Amazon

6 comments on “REVIEW: “Fadeout” by Joseph Hansen

  1. gaycrow
    November 14, 2014

    What a good review you’ve written here. The Dave Brandstetter series is one of my all time favourites, and I’m always happy when someone new discovers Joseph Hansen’s wonderful writing. It’s such a shame he’s not more well known.


    • ilhem3606
      November 14, 2014

      Thank you! I cherish this book, I cherish this author, I can’t believe it’s been there since 1970! Have you read all the series?


      • gaycrow
        November 14, 2014

        I have all the books in the series. I bought them a while ago, before they were available on line. I was also part of an online reading group, where we discussed the early books in the series. It’s on Live Journal, and you can find it here, under the tag of “online reading”: http://d-brandstetter.livejournal.com/tag/

        Unfortunately there weren’t many fans involved, and our group just faded away. It’s a good community for all things Hansen, though.


        • ilhem3606
          November 15, 2014

          I’ve read that the books have been out of print for some time; but readers who discover Hansen today are lucky, the whole series is available in ebook format. Perhaps it will give a second life to this series. Thanks for the link, I ‘ll love reading the discussions.


  2. Ami
    November 14, 2014

    I really should continue with book 3. I have only read two books. Why do I postpone reading the next one?!?


  3. ilhem3606
    November 14, 2014

    Ami my dear, thank you! I have overlooked this book so many times, and I probably would still be overlooking it if not for you and our friend. Indeed, why are you postponing? :D


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This entry was posted on November 14, 2014 by in Mystery / Suspense, Reviewer: Ilhem and tagged , , .

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