Hammett, Gershwin, and O’Quinn

Dashiell Hammett, best known for his iconic novel The Maltese Falcon, struggled with tuberculosis most of his adult life. The portrait you’ll read of him in THIN AS SMOKE, however, is a creation of my frazzled brain and not a representation of the “real” Dashiell  Hammett, except insofar as a distinct personality emerges from reading his body of work.

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George Gershwin, beloved American composer of popular jazz and sophisticated orchestral pieces, was the son of Russian Jews. In Michael and Simon’s tavern, the music would have been heard on scratchy gramophones and even live, from the fingers and lips of jazz musicians for whom there were no international boundaries, only music.

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Both these fellows are imbedded in my romcom mystery THIN AS SMOKE, each in a different way.

Hammett, the famous writer of hard-boiled crime novels, was really a Pinkerton Agency op from 1915 until 1922. And Gershwin wrote the hugely famous “The Man I Love” in 1924,* the year my story takes place.

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Those of you who’ve read the first Gaslight Mystery, Heart to Hart, already know the Pinkerton’s link with Michael. Because of this association, I postulate that my character had met Hammett, whom he calls “Sam,” on U.S. soil in 1917, right before the writer-to-be joined the WWI effort.

Almost impoverished, with a wife and newborn child to support, the tubercular, chain-smoking Hammett was living in San Francisco in 1924. And here’s where Erin O’Quinn’s imagination substitutes fiction for reality. It’s true that Hammett had bitterly turned away from the detection agency two years before (because of their anti-union activities, which I don’t mention in the book).

But needing money, he agrees to one last assignment for Pinkerton’s; and that covert operation takes him to Dun Linden, Ireland, back to the man he’d known Stateside seven years earlier.

And Simon, battling his inner demons—in love with Michael but refusing to admit his gayness, guilt-ridden over his ambivalent feelings—Simon does not like Hammett’s appearance and his teaming up with his PI partner Michael. Not one little bit.

Ironically, the man who’s “thin as smoke” comes between the two private investigators in a way that’s “hard as a fist,” and that tension drives the inner action of the book. The outer action hinges on two sets of mysteries, and the PIs must split up to investigate both.

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Now let’s segue to a lovely song. “The Man I Love” is a Gershwin standard, usually sung by a female vocalist. But anyone who’s heard the lyrics knows it’s a tender yearning for love, no matter whether from a woman to a man…or one man to another.

The day Hammett shows up in their lives, he invites Michael to the dance floor in a gay tavern (in those days, a Molly House) in order to discuss a secret op. The music they closely dance to, ironically, is Gershwin’s song. Simon sits listening, fantasizing, anguished, while his secret love is in the arms of a dangerously handsome man.tmil green

You may choose not to believe this. But the video I present below was totally new to me until a few weeks ago, months after I wrote the dance-floor scene with the Gershwin song. Watch it, and you may weep for its understated declaration of pure love, one man for another. I cannot see it without fighting down a lump in my throat.

One of life’s strange coincidences.

The song winds its way throughout the book, coming back like a leitmotif, and reprises in the Epilogue. Hearing that song in some crevice of his mind, Simon finally understands what he must do.

And the very thin one, Hammett? His very presence becomes the catalyst for profound change in the life of both Michael and Simon, in ways you’ll have to read about to understand.

Please click the link (not the arrow) and watch/listen!

http://youtu.be/rcdgKtT-i-k

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If you haven’t yet read the Gaslight Mysteries, I urge you to read them in order—both to avoid any spoiler of a few interesting quirks and quiddities; and especially for the developing relationship between Michael McCree and Simon Hart.

All the mysteries are here:

http://amzn.to/2CZsBxm   

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*The music and lyrics were written in 1924 for inclusion in a Broadway musical but were later scrapped; and the song wasn’t heard as a single until 1927. So I’m pushing the boundaries a little for the sake of the story. So sue me …

Photos on this page from Yahoo! Images and from Wikipedia
Cover images of the Gaslight Mysteries by Erin O’Quinn (Bonita Franks)

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Thin as Smoke: Men on the Edge

 

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A gay pub somewhere in Ireland. The day is Beltane, Lover’s Day. May 1, 1924.

~oOo~

Those of you who’ve read the first three mysteries know Simon by now: closeted, uptight, surly. Angry at himself, at his flat-mate Michael, and perhaps at the world. And by now you know the somewhat complicated reasons for his attitude.

As the novel opens, Michael McCree is working up to a celebration—the day one year ago he first met the brooding, drop-dead-gorgeous PI Simon Hart. His memories go back to the handsome stranger standing in his newspaper’s anteroom, come to turn in an obituary notice and an advert for a new roomer…

michael 400 flipMichael closed his eyes and let an image dance on the inside of his lids. His own practiced fingers fitting slugs into the linotype, pushing in time with the rain pummeling the large front window of the New Dawn. A rumpled, unshaven man of about twenty-five whose eyes were uncharted stormy seas…almost as tall as he, broad of shoulder and stubbled of chin, dominating the newspaper’s outer office, not bothering to temper either his snotty tone or the surly twist of his lips.

He’d insisted on posting a funeral notice in that very day’s edition. And an advert for a flat-mate. Had this wild-eyed loony bumped off his roomer and now needed a paying substitute? Michael had decided on the spot this outrageously handsome, darkly tousled stranger needed two commodities right away—a sodding good lay and a flat-mate named Michael McCree.

For his part, Simon remembers the day, rightly enough. But for him, the anniversary is not one to celebrate.

The story was a long one. And yet he could start a scant day ago. He’d awakened yesterday with the instant knowledge it was Beltane eve. An anniversary of sorts. A date his new partner had obliquely referred to several times as though it called for some kind of romantic celebration…their first meeting, in the newspaper shop.

bum:angstSimon still had a hard time piecing together those fevered days one year ago after he’d discovered the murdered body of his business partner. Try as he might, he could not remember even dressing on that long-ago morning, much less composing an obit notice and an advert for a new flat-mate. Had he perhaps slept in his suit and greatcoat? It was possible. What he did remember was the rain. After weeks of unnatural drought, the deluge seemed to be wreaking punishment on saint and sinner alike.

Has it really been one entire year?

He remembered taking his Bushmills bottle to bed each night for several days after he found Sargent sprawled across the surface of their old mahogany desk. He’d avoided both their PI office and the flat they’d shared, seeking the knotted bedding at his gentleman’s club where his old friend’s ghost was a little dimmer. He later remembered the cheeky fellow in the New Dawn anteroom because the bastard had extorted a prince’s ransom for his newspaper’s services and had the gall to pound on his door a few days later to extract even more.

For Simon, Beltane eve was the day he’d tried to soak the blood of his foxhole friend from a desk blotter. And Beltane was not the day he’d met Michael McCree. It was the day he’d set down another man’s death in indelible India ink.

~oOo~

And now, out of the haze of cigarette smoke and the sea of clustered dancers, steps a very thin man. A gaunt man, with shuttered eyes betraying both sickness and a world of emotional hurt. Dashiell Hammett has come to Dun Linden on a covert assignment, and he meets his old friend Michael after seven years.

man:smoke lg copyHammett’s astonished. Michael seems delighted. But Simon, refusing to admit how much he’s drawn to his handsome partner, is stricken by the sudden appearance of the man drawing Michael’s attention…

So the day Dashiell Hammett walks out of the smoke of Paddy’s gay pub, he walks into the lives of two deeply conflicted men.

 

One reviewer, Suzana Wylie, perceptively points out:

“Each is trapped inside the snare of his emotions, straining to find a means of escape, not from each other, but toward each other.”

Hamett’s mere presence sets in motion several events which threaten to end the edgy relationship of Michael McCree and Simon Hart.

 

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The five mysteries are here, on the new Kindle Series page:

http://amzn.to/2CZsBxm 

Grow a set: The Gaslight Mysteries

~ Update May 1, 2018 ~

‘Tis Beltane. A day for lovers. The anniversary of the day Michael met Simon, May 1, 1923.

Let me say right away that the universe of these books, the Ireland city of Dun Linden, is wholly fabricated. In every bloody detail. And because it’s set in the mid-1920s, I have deliberately left out The Troubles … the years of horrendous confrontations between the Irish and the British, and between Irish fathers and sons. The series is meant to be a romcom, not a representation of grim history.

I’m re-designing this blog because I’ve re-written, re-formatted, and re-covered the novels. So they’re “reed” to death. This blog, I hope, will feature each novel in order, with   dates starting May 1, 2018.

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A couple of years ago, my attraction to all things Gaelic led me to imagine a man named Michael McCree—a roustabout Irishman, a lover of men and a drinker of whiskey, and yet one with some surprising depths and one huge secret. He makes a living out of being smarter than most, quicker, more athletic, and by-god more able to hold his liquor and swive more men.

A man like Michael is only as interesting as the man he sets his sights on. And that unlikely person is a surly, angry, altogether closeted and touch-me-not fellow named Simon Hart. Simon’s a Cambridge-educated private investigator whose partner has been murdered, and he meets Michael in a newspaper shop when turning in an obit notice.

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They meet. Fisticuffs fly. And before Simon knows what’s happened, he’s gained a new flat-mate, a new business partner, and a wanna-be lover. It’s the “wanna-be” that drives every novel, from first to latest.

Here’s a nutshell of the novels. The biggest surprise is how long it takes Michael and Simon to actually “come together,” in every way. Each book seems to tiptoe to the edge and by the next book, they must start all over again because of their complex personalities.

 

 

 

 

~oOo~

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When I wrote HEART TO HART, I had to keep in mind the future of the two 1920s Private Investigators. I don’t mean their careers, but their hearts.

In the first mystery, Michael McCree seduces a skittish Simon Hart, more uptight about his sexual self than the bluff Irishman can possibly guess, and far more sensitive than Michael has the experience to recognize. His slam-bam techniques work, up to a point.

But the man he finagles into being his flat-mate, the one who trusts him to be his new partner, is far too complex for Michael to bed and then take for granted.

These men’s story grows over the next four books. I need to add that each book is a stand-alone, but the developing relationship really cries out for a reader to start with the first one and continue from there.

This first mystery could well be called “The Case of the Crimson Feather” and introduces several characters who reappear in subsequent novels.

~

SPARRING WITH SHADOWS finds Simon anguished about the loss of his former business partner and the recent loss of his virginity to heavy-handed Michael.

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Merely calling him a “homosexual” causes Simon to fall apart in front of Michael’s eyes. The carefree McCree needs to change, and he needs to help Simon see past his angst. But can he? And is Simon capable of sparring with his private demons and seeing himself more truly?

There is a lot of action in this second novel, with the idea of “shadows” coming into play always.

~

In TO THE BONE, the men are visited by a ghost from Simon’s earlier life, a man named Moshe. Just as he is on the verge of reaching out to Michael, Simon finds himself withdrawing even more, avoiding not just the present but even his past.

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But something important begins to cement these men together. Call it Michael’s new-found awareness of Simon’s secret desires. Call it Simon’s slow acceptance of his own complicated sexual needs. No matter what the reason, these two PIs begin to explore matters both in and out of their two large beds. For them, it’s a work in progress. Apart from pooling their talents on PI cases, it also involves bed dowels, silken neckties, and a certain walking cane.

Like its prequel, this novel contains more than one mystery, and the threads come together rather provocatively. The book also contains some engaging private encounters, not the least of which occurs with verses from Omar Khayyám…

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~

In THIN AS SMOKE, a man from Michael’s past almost pulls the men apart for good.

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Dashiell Hammett was unknown to readers in 1924, although the fledgling author and former Pinkerton’s op had a few stories published (“The Continental Op” series). The beginnings of a fictional hard-boiled operative would eventually result in THE MALTESE FALCON. But for now, sent to Ireland to pin down Mafia bootleggers, he renews ties with his old friend Michael.

 

And Simon does not like this development. Not one bit. Hammett’s presence becomes a catalyst for change, in every way…

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This novel is more “shoot ’em up” than the others—but what can one expect when Dashiell Hamnmett is on the case?

~

MASTERS OF CANE

In a way, this caper is the most humorous of the set, as you may see from the collage below:

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The fifth mystery, MASTERS OF CANE features the turn-of-the-century fad (the 20th century, that is)…the craze known as “Bartitsu” or cane-fighting which has had a resurgence and is alive and well all over the U.K. and the U.S.

On the top of this blog, you’ll find “In the Raw,” the first two chapters of the novel—sexy and (for Simon) unusual—and an article about the “gay language” used in the series.

The “Lavender Language” or “underground gay language”  called Polari comes into play in this novel, as the men call on their stalwart team of back-alley boys who have not quite grasped  the finer points of  the King’s English. An old nemesis reappears to give Simon grief, and Sam Hammett joins the fray as a small army descends on Dun Linden’s center of criminal activity—the local cop headquarters!

And finally…finally! Simon lets down his  reserves long enough to give Michael an unforgettable display of canesmanship.

~oOo~

pair o pugs 300Throughout the books, Michael and Simon encounter and solve cases which “happen”—from murder to dog-napping—while they struggle with their own personal lives. I’ve found in writing these books that there is a lot of potential for humor, for irony, and for exploring the clues to bona fide mysteries.

Damn, I’m the luckiest author I know, to have conceived a pair of absolutely riveting and pleasing characters who’ve won a lot of dedicated followers.

And yes, I am fiddling with a sixth mystery. Simon is still giving Michael a hard time. With and without his cane.

~

 

Find the mysteries on my Amazon series page, and these other fine sites:

https://tinyurl.com/yap2ducr  

Queer Romance Ink http://bit.ly/2mnG1hL (links, reviews, etc.)

Sea to Sky http://bit.ly/2lJ72bd (epub or pdf links, excerpts)

Smashwords http://bit.ly/1s3cf1q (epub)
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Erin O’Quinn sprang from the high desert hills of Nevada, from a tiny town which no longer exists. A truant officer dragged her kicking and screaming to grade school, too late to attend kindergarten; and since that time her best education has come from the ground she’s walked and the people she’s met.

These M/Mysteries are contagious

April, 2018   Hi, everyone! You’ve reached the home page of Michael McCree and Simon Hart, otherwise known as Erin’s gaslight boys. This blog is being revised, and subsequent articles will appear weekly beginning May 1, 2018…exactly 95 years from the day when Michael met Simon…

~~Scroll down to see the articles in chrono order…or click a calendar date~~ 

Their sexcapades and investigations stretch over five novels so far:

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Heart to Hart sets up the improbable pairing of a roustabout named Michael McCree, a man with a huge secret … and a snotty, angry man named Simon Hart, whose good looks have drawn Michael into a murder mystery and a lot more on the emotional side of the ledger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sparring with Shadows continues the adventures of two unlikely private investigators, who look into affairs very private indeed. Their efforts take them from a gay bar to the sewers under a city in their quest for a priceless treasure, a master criminal, and an answer to Simon’s anguished question about himself.

 

 

 

 

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To the Bone introduces a character who worms his way between the two men, burrowing like a tick almost to the bone, while the investigators are on the trail of a thief and a murderer…not to mention a possible breakthrough in their always edgy relationship.

 

 

 

 

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Thin as Smoke: Out of the haze of cigarette smoke and the sea of clustered dancers steps a very thin man. A gaunt man, with shuttered eyes betraying both sickness and a world of emotional hurt. Dashiell Hammett has come to Dun Linden on a covert assignment, and he meets his old friend Michael after seven years. He’s astonished. Michael seems delighted. But Simon, refusing to admit how much he’s drawn to his handsome partner, is stricken by the sudden appearance of the man drawing Michael’s attention

 

 

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Masters of Cane:  No one has hired them this time, as the private dicks find their neighbors and their own tiny spy network in grave danger from a group of thieves who would rather slit a throat than pick an honest pocket; and an old nemesis who has a score to settle with both of them. When the peril grows too grave for two men to handle, they call on a few trusted friends and some unusual weaponry to help in a case where they are outnumbered—but never outwitted.

The always-edgy partnership of the two investigators also undergoes some twists and turns …of fate and canes alike. Even Simon is surprised to discover the true masters of cane in this novel of sex, crime, punishment—and sexual payback.

~oOo~

All five mysteries are together on a unique Kindle Series page, here:

~The Gaslight Mysteries

http://amzn.to/2CZsBxm

Keep this blog bookmarked (or click “follow”)  if you want to follow the sexy adventures of Michael and Simon…gay retro with a twist.

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A side note: I have recently designed all new covers, along with publishing the mysteries on my own press, New Dawn Press. Not coincidentally, the name of my press is also the name of Michael’s newspaper.

 

Logo design by Rebecca Poole, Dreams2Media.