Bruises afflict nearly everyone and everything in Richard Stevenson’s 12th Donald Strachey mystery, Red White Black and Blue. Hired thugs pummel Strachey, a gay Albany PI, as he tries to get the dirt on Kenyon Louderbush, a candidate for governor of New York running in the Democratic primary. Louderbush, a married, closeted gay man, beat up a boyfriend who later committed suicide. The boyfriend, it turns out, had been physically abused by his stepfather. And the political system the PI butts up against in this entertaining mystery is so battered that it’s down for the count.
At the outset, Strachey’s assignment seems simple. But as often happens in satisfying mysteries such as this one, the case becomes delectably complex.
The supporters of Sylvester McCloskey, the other candidate for governor in the Democratic primary, want Strachey to get the goods on Louderbush and his clandestine gay relationships. Louderbush is – are you ready? – a “weirdly out of step” tea party Democrat whom “mild and centrist” New York voters will shun. So if he beats McCloskey, he’ll get trounced in the main election by a “Pataki lite” Republican who is sure to turn the Empire State into “Mississippi or Idaho or some such benighted bog.”
Strachey, who narrates, steps into this cat’s cradle with a BlackBerry, a Smith and Wesson, and a ready wit: “I had on khakis and a sports jacket over a nicely styled T-shirt of the type Anderson Cooper might wear to a famine.” He also employs tactics that some would term creative – and others would call lawless. He engages a hacker to dig up information pointing him to sources. And to reach them, the PI impersonates, among others, a BBC producer, a probation officer and the cousin of a beating victim’s sister.
Strachey’s outrage over Louderbush’s gross hypocrisy toward gays propels him across Upstate New York, into a Crowne Plaza hotel and a Comfort Inn, and then down to Sutton Place in Manhattan. A rough gang shadows Strachey’s every move, no matter how closely he guards his itinerary.
Strachey’s junket ends with enough pirouettes for the finale of “Swan Lake” – turns that surprise as much as they inspire some not-so-paranoid notions about who really calls the shots in politics.
Bartell is an arts and travel writer based in Manhattan.