Review of Katie Gilmartin’s Blackmail, My Love
7/20/15 REVIEW OF KATIE GILMARTIN’S BLACKMAIL, MY LOVE
“He looked up, looked me over, hat to oversize feet. ‘San Francisco changes people,’ he said drily, and returned to his paper.”
Yet the San Francisco we know today—the city so embracing of gay people—is not the San Francisco that existed in the 1950s when Blackmail, My Love takes place. The book resonated for me because I remember the fear I felt when, as a teenager in the early ’60s, I realized I might be homosexual and that, as I became an adult and remained wifeless, everyone else would suspect the truth.
But as much as the books’s gay history aspect speaks to me, its police brutality aspect—with arrestees dying in police custody—is an issue shockingly timely. What happened to Gilmartin’s characters, and to real people in the San Francisco of the ’50s, can happen—apparently will happen—if government isn’t ever vigilant to prevent police abuse.
As a gay man of age 67, I’ve seen so much advance and change that I almost forget that at age 20 I never imagined a day would come when two men or two women would be able to go out in public without hiding the fact that they were a couple, much less imagined that they might ever be able to marry. Gilmartin’s book brings to light what it’s like to live outside of society. As I read I realized this is also what it’s like to be a member of the wrong party under a totalitarian government. People under such circumstances are persecuted for being who they are, for thinking what they think, and for wanting to meet and interact with other like-minded people. Blackmail, My Love is historical mystery, yet the sociological aspect takes precedence, to my mind. Mysteries are plentiful, even mysteries in unique historical settings, whereas rare are books showing the effective persecution of a people—any people—to the extent that many of them are ashamed to be themselves.
Blackmail, My Love, winner of the Lambda Award 2015, Best Gay Mystery, “is an illustrated murder mystery deeply steeped in San Francisco’s queer history, as established academic and first-time novelist Katie Gilmartin’s diverse set of characters negotiate the risks of same-sex desire in a dangerous era.” (from the publisher)
Nan Alamilla Boyd, author of Wide Open-Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965 and Professor of Women and Gender Studies at SFSU, says, “Historian and practicing artist Katie Gilmartin has outdone herself with Blackmail, My Love. This gripping and beautifully-written detective novel is actually a well-researched piece of historical fiction, illuminating San Francisco’s post-World War II era, when bars were the primary mode of queer socializing and police raids really did ruin people’s lives.”
ForeWord Reviews says, “This intriguing noir novel captures a cultural moment, set in 1950s San Francisco at a time when gays and lesbians established a strong sense of community, despite being harassed and often arrested by law enforcement simply for congregating. Blackmail, My Love will entertain fans of the noir genre, but its social themes and messages about love and redemption will also appeal to a wider audience.”
An example of the sad facts of the time, from the text of Blackmail, My Love: “In 1955 San Francisco’s chief of police created a ‘blueprint of action’ to keep ‘the gathering places of homosexuals under constant pressure.’ In addition to surveillance and entrapment at bars, beat cops stopped ‘obvious homosexuals, or the effeminate type,’ for questioning and, ‘if warranted,’ arrest. They provided sex crimes investigators with the names, addresses, and places of employment of individuals questioned or arrested, in order to create a comprehensive list of the city’s ‘known homosexuals’” (citing Nan Alamilla Boyd’s Wide-Open Town: A History Of Queer San Francisco to 1965 and Josh Sides’ Erotic City: Sexual Revolutions and the Making of Modern San Francisco).
Katie Gilmartin attended Oberlin College and Yale Graduate School, “then for over a decade taught cultural studies with an emphasis on the histories of gender and sexuality. On an urgent quest to relocate pleasure, I took up printmaking and became utterly smitten with the medium as art and as craft. In 2000 I surrendered my academic life to assume care of Chrysalis Print Studio, where I now teach linocut and monotype classes.”–from her blog, katiegilmartin.com . Gilmartin not only wrote Blackmail, My Love, but personally illustrated it with prints, including the one shown here.
I look forward to interviewing Katie Gilmartin here on Late Last Night Books on 8/20/15.
Gary Garth McCann
First-prize winner for short works and for suspense/mystery, Maryland Writers’ Association, Gary Garth McCann is the author of the novella Young and in Love? and of the novels The Shape of the Earth and The Man Who Asked To Be Killed, praised at the Washington Independent Review of Books. His most recent published stories are available online in Chelsea Station Magazine, Erotic Review Magazine, and in Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. His other stories appear in The Q Review, reprinted in Off the Rocks, in Best Gay Love Stories 2005, and in the Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly. See his blogs at garygarthmccann.com and streamlinermemories.com.
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