Titles: Shock to the System & Chain of Fools
Series: The Donald Strachey Mysteries: Books Five & Six
Author: Richard Stevenson
Publisher: ReQueered Tales
Length: 283/294 Pages
Rating: 5 Stars
At a Glance: These are both statement books wrapped up in a couple of fantastic mysteries. Originally published in the mid-90s, they at times seem prescient, a little like retracing how we’ve gotten where we are today.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurbs: Shock to the System: Donald Strachey is asked to investigate the suspicious death of Paul Haig by three different people-Haig’s homophobic mother, his ex-lover, and the psychiatrist hired to “cure” him of his homosexuality. Just as he gets started, however, all three remove him from the case, leaving Strachey with a brutal murderer that now everyone wants left alone.
Chain of Fools: Private Investigator Donald Strachey is asked to look into the events surrounding the months-old murder of Eric Osborne. His death, originally believed to be a random attack, takes on new significance when Janet Osborne, Eric’s sister, survives an attempt on her life.
Skeeter, Eric’s lover, believed both attacks were meant to silence them before the sale of their family’s newspaper. Drawn into a complex family feud, Strachey must unravel the secret behind the attacks before the killer tries again.
Review: Donald Strachey’s “Uh-huh” does a lot of heavy lifting. It’s two syllables worth of skepticism, speculation, and sarcasm. It speaks volumes about Don’s belief—or, more often, disbelief—when he’s interrogating a potential suspect than any complex sentence could deliver. He has mastered that “Uh-huh” like a pro, over the years, and he uses it liberally.
Originally published in the mid-90s, these books at times seem prescient. They’re also a reminder of how things have changed, what precipitated those changes, and the ways some things have, sadly, remained the same. Richard Stevenson confronts conversion therapy in Shock to the System, when Donald is asked by three different (very different) people to investigate Paul Haig’s death, ruled by the authorities as suicide but deemed suspicious by Paul’s homophobic mother, Paul’s ex-lover, and Paul’s ex-therapist—who believes he can cure men of their homosexuality through aversion.
Don doesn’t accept the case at first ask, and while the money is much-needed, he has some reservations: Paul’s mother being repugnant, the ex-lover being sketchy, and the doctor simply being a foul human being. In fact, Don wouldn’t mind proving Dr. Vernon Crockwell is guilty and putting him out of commission. But before he can even get a good grasp of the case and the suggestion that Paul was, indeed, murdered, all three fire Don and demand he stop his investigation. Everyone has secrets, and asking Don to ignore his instincts is like asking a predator to ignore its prey.
Stevenson puts his journalism background to use in Chain of Fools. Though it was originally published in 1997, the story is relevant today, and is utterly perceptive. A small though highly respected legacy newspaper with a reputation for progressive leanings, and also its fairness, is in financial trouble thanks to bad investment advice by a trusted colleague. To pay off a hefty bank debt, the Osbornes will have to sell the paper that’s been in their family for generations. The question is whether to sell to the low bidder who will carry on the Herald‘s progressivism, or to the soulless media corporation that only cares about the bottom line.
Where money is concerned, there is infighting to a dysfunctional degree. It’s the Progressives vs the Conservatives in the Osborne clan, and the Progressives are the current majority on the board of directors, which means they’ll sell to the low bidder with the impeccable reputation. What better way to stop that from happening than to pick off the liberal side of the family, one by one? Don not only has to find and stop a killer but protect the matriarch of the Osborne family from some of her own children, as well as unravel a jewel heist gone wrong.
These are both statement books wrapped up in a couple of fantastic mysteries. The cruel depravity of conversion therapy is obvious; internalized homophobia that is then externalized is confronted; while the prediction of the decline of print news, along with the near-collapse of impartial journalism, feels more like prophecy than fiction.
Don and Timmy have been together for nineteen years, now, and they are only getting better with age. Don is certainly becoming one of my favorite sleuths, and stepping back in time with him (me being of a ::ahem:: certain age) has been a little like retracing how we’ve gotten where we are today.
You can buy Shock to the System here:
And Chain of Fools here: