Review: Blackmail, My Love

I’ll admit to some initial skepticism when Cleis Press asked me to review a murder mystery, Katie Gilmartin’s Blackmail, My Love. Mystery is far from my favorite genre, but I was intrigued by Gilmartin’s background as an artist and former cultural studies professor, as well as advanced press promising a deep understanding of post-war queer San Francisco. A well researched piece of fiction, to me, is often as alluring as my preferred non-fiction social histories, and this book was no exception.

I was particularly relieved to find a lack of anachronism in the book’s treatment of gender roles in lesbian as well as gay male subcultures, and further interested in the way Gilmartin treats a broad cast of gender non-conforming characters across the spectrum. Within the foreboding noir tone that frames a plot around blackmail and a murdered brother, there are surprisingly coherent philosophical discussions around trans identity versus drag performance, gender identity over the lifespan, and the relationships between queer community members that might otherwise never meet. I had trouble following all the characters at times, but I really enjoyed the way Gilmartin blends historical accuracy and realistic anti-queer sentiment with a perspective on queer culture that includes racial diversity and more nuance than some accounts of 1950s queer communities might suggest. Gilmartin’s narrative brings alive the voices of very real San Francisco queers forgotten to history in the form of her fictional characters.

Gilmartin will be reading from Blackmail, My Love this Thursday at Good Vibrations in Berkley, 6:30 pm.

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