“Blackmail, My Love” by Katie Gilmartin— A Murder, a Mystery and a Secret History

blackmail my love

Gilmartin, Katie. “Blackmail, My Love”, Cleis Press, 2014.

 A Murder, a Mystery and a Secret History

Amos Lassen

Katie Gilmartin takes us to San Francisco in 1951 where we learn that Josie O’Conner’s gay brother, Jimmy, is missing. Jimmy is a private detective who was investigating a blackmail ring that had targeted the LGBT community. Some of his friends maintain that just before he disappeared he became a rat and informed the cops about the bar community’s “nascent resistance” to raids, graft and brutality. Josie is determined to clear her brother’s name, get justice for the large number of dead and stop the blackmailers. She sets out to do so.

As she works, Josie meets a chanteuse who runs a lesbian bar and a madam with red hair with whom she becomes intimate who happens to run a brothel from the police personnel department.. She also manages to team up and conspire with the star of Finocchio’s, a real dive bar tat is so bad that soldiers are not allowed to go there.

While this is essentially a mystery it is a bit more than that. We learn of the San Francisco that once was and we see that Gilmartin brings fiction and nonfiction together here. Some of the locations were once real and I am sure that west coast people will recognize what is being written about. To give you an idea of what you are in for when you read this is just to give you a look at some of the cast of characters. We have a troubled private eye on an urgent and personal mission, glamorous dames and drag queens and brutal corrupt cops to name just a few.

The prose is gorgeous and the book is a linguistic pleasure. We are back at San Francisco’s Tenderloin District where we find corrupt blackmailers, rough cops, intrepid gays and this is set before the Stonewall riots. Reading this is like taking a vacation in a different time. To make the book even more interesting and exciting, the author has provided illustrations as she resurrects our history.

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