Saturday, November 22, 2014

Book Review: Blackmail, My Love

Title: Blackmail, My Love

Author: Katie Gilmartin

Publisher: Cleis Press

Genre: F/F, LGBT, contemporary, roman noir/neo-noir

Length: 232 pages

Published: November 18th, 2014


Josie O'Conner travels to San Francisco in 1951 to locate her gay brother, a private dick investigating a blackmail ring targeting lesbians and gay men. Jimmy's friends claim that just before he disappeared he became a rat, informing the cops on the bar community. Josie adopts Jimmy's trousers and wingtips, battling to clear his name, halt the blackmailers, and exact justice for the many queer corpses. Along the way she rubs shoulders with a sultry chanteuse running a dyke tavern called Pandora's Box, gets intimate with a red-headed madam operating a brothel from the Police Personnel Department, and conspires with the star of Finocchio's, a dive so disreputable it's off limits to servicemen — so every man in uniform pays a visit.

Blackmail, My Love is an illustrated murder mystery deeply steeped in San Francisco's queer history. Established academic and first-time novelist Katie Gilmartin's diverse set of characters negotiate the risks of same-sex desire in a tough time for queers. Humor leavens the grave subject matter. Set in such legendary locations as the Black Cat Cafe, the Fillmore, the Beat movement's North Beach, and the sexually complex Tenderloin, Blackmail, My Love is a singular, visually stunning neo-noir experience.


You know, right off the bat, just from the cover art of this book alone, I had an inkling feeling that Blackmail, My Love would be something special and unique. I don't normally get that "feeling" for just any book, and with this one, I sure felt it, and from just reading chapter one, it was certainly real. 

The neo-noir/roman noir genre may be too "old school" or old fashioned for most, or too dark and cold to be instantly inviting, and in a way, that is kind of the point. It is an acquired taste genre. The writing style is as cold, dark, mysterious, and eerie as the world that unfolds page by page, illustration by illustration, and the characters are just as cold, dark, and mysterious too. It is "dark fiction" at its finest, and to boot, the illustrations in this book were done by the author herself! Don't be fooled: this is not a picture book. The illustration aren't chock full, but there are enough to truly take you into the the story's troubled world, and they were just so enticing that I wished that there were more of them. The writing pulls you into the story as powerfully that even without the illustrations, you'll be in the story, the reader is in. I will admit that the plot itself is just a decent murder mystery. It's the way that the author weaves San Francisco's history with such beautiful words and pretty colorful characters that makes this book a must-read and a true winner of its kind. The author clearly knows San Francisco's 1950's LGBT community and the plight of the people of that time period, in a time when San Francisco wasn't the accepting, liberating, LGBT-friendly city that we know and love today. There is so much history and geography here. The author doesn't at all tell us about it, she shows us. The geography and history comes to life, so much so that I think the story itself gets lost. Sometimes, I forgot that I was reading a murder mystery and was reading more about San Francisco and that the novel was really about her story, people, and past than it was about Josie and her gay brother's story. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it's something to put out there for those who might expect some gripping, edge-of-your-seat, fast-paced murder mystery.

Nonetheless, Blackmail, My Love was a real delight, and it's a treasure. You won't see San Francisco the same again after reading this one. And seriously, the author's illustration skills are just wonderful. How can anyone not love them? The characters, writing, and illustrations aside, I really did love how the neo-noir genre is so alive in this, and it's done with such style, grace, and class, which I can imagine is not easy to do. And Katie upholds that genre and tradition so well that it's simply...perfect. 

Rating: 5

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