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Book Review: Boystown, Three Nick Nowak Mysteries

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“Like most guys, I’m a sucker for easy sex and a fast buck. Unlike most guys, I should know better.” 

Above is our introduction to Nick Nowak, a Chicago Private Detective, created by Marshall Thornton. I met Thornton in 2011, in Chicago, at a reading for the Lambda Book Award finalist. We each read from our nominated books. He was in the category of Men’s Mystery for Boystown, and I was in the category of Women’s Mystery for Retirement Plan. I saw him again at the Awards Ceremony in New York, but only in passing. The only other book I remember from that day in New York was one called How to get a Lesbian Pregnant. I don’t know what category that one was in.

The time is the early 1980s, the place is Chicago, and those who remember what homophobia was like for gays all those years ago, will understand Nick’s tragic reasons for losing a lover, who was ‘the one’ and leaving the police force even though his whole family worked in policing for generations. Nowak works for insurance companies and does personnel searches for other businesses. But these aren’t the cases that the detective tells us about.

The book is structured in three novellas. Almost every one of his stories start with Nowak telling someone who wants his services that their job is not the kind of work he does. Then he proceeds to take the case anyway. This is the kind of guy Nick is. It works this way for sex too. He sees an opportunity, someone he wants, or someone coming on to him, and he thinks of the reasons he shouldn’t, and then he does.

That day in Chicago, listening to him read, I discovered I liked Thornton’s writing style and voice. It was pure noir, like that of Raymont Chandler or Dashall Hammett. When I got home, I bought a copy. I think back then, there were three in the series, and I bought all of them. And I kept them until I gave a bunch of mysteries to my mother and they accidently got into the stack. Mom told me she didn’t like them. The irony is, when it was her turn to work at the library, in the retirement home where she lived at the time, the old ladies thought mom’s taste in literature was ‘nasty.’

Thorton’s books are good mysteries, with a lot of vivid anal sex. Nowak is a top. While written in the 21st  Century, the time the stories took place is in the 1980’s, right before AIDS changed gay lives forever. Today there are thirteen books in the series. I don’t know if the setting of the books, Chicago’s Boytown, still exists. It did in 2012 when we drove through the area and saw a  sign for the biggest dick competition advertised on a bar. Nowak includes street names as he travels around Chicago, working his cases. The city has a lot of Chicago realism, as Nick usually has to park four blocks from his home, and sometimes he forgets where his car is. This book is several years old, but you can get it on Amazon along with the other twelve sequels. This first one will always be my favorite.

Boystown, Three Nick Nowak Mysteries, book 1 of 13, by Marshall Thornton. Kenmore Books, Los Angeles. 2015. 2nd Edition. $12.99 Paperback. ISBN-10-1507835296

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