NPR Fresh Air book critic Maureen Corrigan selects Dick Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64) writing as Richard Stevenson’s last novel—Knock Off the Hat: A Clifford Waterman Gay Philly Mystery
The circumstances of this last recommendation are unusual. Richard Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64) who wrote under the penname Richard Stevenson, was a groundbreaking author of gay detective novels featuring private eye Donald Strachey. Decades ago, I reviewed one of those Strachey books, and Dick and I became fast friends. He died in March, but one of the things he left behind was the first novel in what would have been a new series about a gay private eye in 1940s Philadelphia. Knock Off The Hat may be the best novel Dick ever wrote. Its main character, Clifford Waterman, is a former police detective dishonorably discharged from the Army during World War II for an “indecent act.” Cliff gets drawn into helping a man who’s nabbed in a raid on a so-called “Degenerates” club.
As with One-Shot Harry, the greatest pleasures here are the details that make 1940s Philly come alive: the Horn & Hardart automat meals of meat loaf and coconut cream pie; the network of Cliff’s closeted friends, working in town at Wanamaker’s shoe department or even on the police force. I wish I could say there’d be more Waterman novels to come, but the fact that Dick was in his early 80s when he wrote this novel — well, maybe that’s a reason to believe in springtime possibilities no matter the season.
by Maureen Corrigan
Lambda Literary Award-winning author delves into the sudden and extraordinary wave of gay-bashing in 1940s Philadelphia.
It’s steaming August in post-war Philadelphia. Clifford Waterman, dishonorably discharged from the Army for “an indecent act with a native” in Cairo, can’t go back to his job as a police detective and is struggling to make a go of it as a private investigator. He’s soon hired to help a young man caught in a gay bar raid who can’t afford the $500 bribe a corrupt judge demands to make a “morals charge” go away.
In the blink of an eye, an entire gay neighborhood is suddenly under siege, and Waterman has to find out why the cops, courts, and the city powers that be have unleashed a wave of brutal gay-bashing―astonishing even for that time and place.
Kept moving by Jim Beam, bluesy jazz, and a stubborn sense of outsider’s pride, Waterman makes his way through Philadelphia’s social, political, and financial swamp to rescue a few unlucky souls and inflict at least a bit of damage to the rotten system that would lead to the Stonewall rebellion in New York City 22 years later.