Joseph Hansen (1923 to 2004) was a crime writer best known for his series of books that featured David Brandstetter, a gay insurance investigator whose mysteries revolve mostly around his missing policyholders. Fadeout (1970) is the first book out of twelve to introduce the character. The time period is said to be during the 1960’s. In the author’s note Hansen said that he hoped that his novels would outlive him and he would be happy to know that they have thanks to many readers who have shared their love for his books. I’ve read two books thus far and already think it’s a terrific series.
What struck me first about Fadeout is the writing and atmosphere. The writing is very spare and this title comes in at 190 pages. Also this is a good ole fashioned detective novel, told in third person. The atmosphere of the novel stood out. Hansen’s writing included descriptions of the furniture, the weather, the people, their clothes, their mannerisms, etc. As for the main character, the two words that pop into mind are mature and credible. I came away liking the forty-year old David Brandstetter and wanting to learn more about him.
Dave’s good at his job at Medallion Life which as it turns out is a family business. His dad works there, too. Dave works in the Death Claims department and has been with the company for twenty-something years. Dave can be tough but rarely does he lose his cool. However, he is prone to his share of heroics. He’s also caught in a brooding mood as he is still grieving at the loss of his partner who recently died of cancer. Dave can come off cold and cynical or even distant when it comes to discussing his personal life and relationships. Since the story is told mainly from his point of view in third person, his interactions with others is the only way we can gain any insight into what makes Dave tick.
In Fadeout, Dave is sent to the small town of Pima, in California, to investigate the disappearance of Fox Olsen. Olsen was a radio entertainer and a local celebrity. His car was found smashed up in the river after a hard rain but where is his body? As you would expect, Dave is suspicious, doesn’t believe he’s dead and start’s interviewing some of Fox Olsen’s fans and some of his detractors. His insurance policy was worth about $50,000, which at the time would seem like a lot of money.
Dave goes around talking to the people of the town to try to find Mr. Olsen or at least find out what happened to him. The interesting part of the mystery is the people that Dave interviews. The author did a good job in making these people seem as real as possible while at the same time he kind of makes you think each of them are guilty of something. One thing I have noticed with this writer is that it’s hard to solve the mystery on your own. There are plenty of red herrings and twists to surprise you with the final outcome of the story. It’s not a bad thing to not figure it out on your own but I can’t help but try to guess. After reading the second book, Death Claims, I stopped guessing.
Overall, I thought the story and the writing was refreshing in Fadeout. That is to say that the story has held up very well over the years despite some dated references and language. Dave’s personal life is apart of the story but it isn’t the focus. However his personal angst and relationships are weaved in really well. The dialogue is nicely written as it does a good job of showing how people actually talk and engage with each other. The novel is rich in atmosphere, displaying a strong sense of time and place. The stories give a lot of wisdom about people and life in general. The length of the novels are short making them quick to read. I’d highly recommend this author and this series. The novels are so addictive. I’ve already read Death Claims and found it just as good as Fadeout. My meaningless grade is a A-/B+ for entertaining story, engaging characters, detailed setting and interesting resolutions. This wasn’t a perfect read but whatever criticisms I have would be nothing worth typing out publicly.
Notes: Reading order is listed at Wikipedia and there are 12 books in the series in total. They are all digitized and available at your favorite retailer. The books are kind of expensive at $7.99 a pop or more but they often go on sale so keep a look out. Right now, Nightwork is on sale for $1.99 and is the seventh book in the series. I’ve only read two books in the series so far but I do believe that these can stand alone. What you lose out on reading out-of-order is the familiarity of the main character as you know. If asked what I think, I’d say read these in order. I think Dave’s worth getting to know. A big thank you to Sunita for reviewing this book. After her review of it, I bought Fadeout and read it in one sitting (which wasn’t all that hard to do since it’s only 190 pages as I said).