The best books on gay mysteries (from a gay mystery writer)

Gregory Ashe Author Of The Same Breath
By Gregory Ashe

Who am I?

As a writer of gay mystery, I try to read as widely as I can—both to learn from writers who have gone before me and for the pleasure of the books themselves. I’m always thrilled when I find writers like the ones I’ve shared in this list: people who think deeply and carefully about the complexities (and, occasionally, the agonies) of being a gay man, while, at the same time, weaving in the suspense and puzzles inherent in mysteries.


I wrote...

The Same Breath

By Gregory Ashe,

Book cover of The Same Breath

What is my book about?

Teancum Leon, who goes by Tean, is a wildlife veterinarian. His life has settled into a holding pattern: he loves his job, he hates first dates, and he only occasionally has to deal with his neighbor Mrs. Wish’s cat-related disasters. All of that changes when a man asks for help to find his brother. Jem is convinced that something bad has happened to Benny. Tean isn’t sure, but he’s willing to try. After all, Jem is charming and sweet, and surprisingly vulnerable. Oh. And hot.

Then things get strange: phone calls with no one on the other end; surveillance footage that shows what might be an abduction; a truck that tries to run Tean and Jem off the road. As Tean and Jem investigate, they realize that Benny might have stumbled onto a conspiracy and that someone is willing to kill to keep the truth from coming out.

The books I picked & why

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Lay Your Sleeping Head: A Henry Rios Novel

By Michael Nava,

Book cover of Lay Your Sleeping Head: A Henry Rios Novel

Why this book?

The first book in Nava’s best-known series, Lay Your Sleeping Head introduces defense attorney Henry Rios. Rios is struggling with addiction and an existential crisis; when he is drawn into investigating the murder of a young man he loved, he finds he is the only one willing to dig for the truth. Nava’s books are lyrical, intricate, and intensely thoughtful about what it means to be a gay man.

Lay Your Sleeping Head: A Henry Rios Novel

By Michael Nava,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lay Your Sleeping Head as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set in the summer of 1981, in a university town 30 miles south of San Francisco. Henry Rios, a gifted and humane lawyer driven to drink to by personal and professional demons, meets Hugh Paris, a charming junkie struggling to stay clean. Hugh tells Rios an improbable tale of long-ago murders in his wealthy family. Rios disbelieves him but the erotic spark between the two men ignites an obsessive affair that ends only when Hugh is discovered with a needle in his arm on the campus of the great university founded by his ancestor. Rios refused to believe Hugh’s death…


Fadeout

By Joseph Hansen,

Book cover of Fadeout

Why this book?

Fadeout is the first book in Hansen’s Dave Brandstetter mysteries. The protagonist, an openly gay insurance investigator in 1970s California, is convinced that a man who has been reported dead is actually still alive, and he must hurry to find him. Another classic in the gay mystery canon, Fadeout is vividly noir, grittily honest, and rejects cliches and stereotypes in a way that is still shocking over fifty years later.

Fadeout

By Joseph Hansen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fadeout as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'After forty years, Hammett has a worthy successor' The Times

Radio personality Fox Olsen seemed to have it all: devoted wife, adoring fans, perfect life. When his car is found crashed in a dry river bed, all of California mourns. But there is no body...

Insurance investigator Dave Brandstetter is hired to dig a little deeper. And the more he looks into Fox Olsen's life, the more it seems as if he had good reason to disappear.

Fadeout is the first novel starring Dave Brandstetter - one of the best fictional PIs in the business, and one of the first…


Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries

By Marshall Thornton,

Book cover of Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries

Why this book?

Thornton, one of the most frequent winners of the Lambda Literary Award, kicks off his Nick Nowak series with a collection of novella-length stories. Nick is a former police officer turned private investigator. Set in the 80s, the series follows Nick through the AIDS crisis against the backdrop of heart-pounding (and heartbreaking) mysteries. 

Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries

By Marshall Thornton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Boystown as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Finalist for the Lambda Award in Gay Mystery, Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries takes place in Chicago during the early 1980s. Haunted by his abrupt departure from the Chicago Police Department and the end of his relationship with librarian Daniel Laverty, Nick Nowak is a beat cop-turned-dogged private investigator. In this first book of the series, Nick works through three cases: a seemingly simple missing persons search, an arson investigation, and a suicide that turns out to be anything but. While working the cases, Nick moves through a series of casual relationships until he meets homicide detective Bert Harker and…


Simple Justice

By John Morgan Wilson,

Book cover of Simple Justice

Why this book?

Benjamin Justice is a broken man—a former prize-winning journalist whose career (and life) has been shattered by the death of his lover and a scandal surrounding his best-known writing. Recruited by his former boss to assist an up-and-coming journalist, Ben finds himself investigating a murder that occurred outside a gay bar. The series is tightly written and casts a dark glamor across gay life in ’90s California.

Simple Justice

By John Morgan Wilson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Simple Justice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It’s 1994, an election year when violent crime is rampant, voters want action, and politicians smell blood. When a Latino teenager confesses to the murder of a pretty-boy cokehead outside a gay bar in L.A., the cops consider the case closed. But Benjamin Justice, a disgraced former reporter for the Los Angeles Times, sees something in the jailed boy others don’t. His former editor, Harry Brofsky, now toiling at the rival Los Angeles Sun, pries Justice from his alcoholic seclusion to help neophyte reporter Alexandra Templeton dig deeper into the story. But why would a seemingly decent kid confess to…


The Cold Cold Ground

By Adrian McKinty,

Book cover of The Cold Cold Ground

Why this book?

Set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, The Cold Cold Ground is my most adventurous pick for this list because its protagonist, Sean Duffy, isn’t exactly gay. Or perhaps he just isn’t out. It’s impossible to tell—most likely because Sean himself doesn’t know. The series plays with Sean’s attraction to men, including his work as a police detective investigating the deaths of murdered gay men, while Sean pursues relationships with women. McKinty manages to turn the violence and despair of that time into gorgeous, gripping prose and powerful stories.

The Cold Cold Ground

By Adrian McKinty,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Cold Cold Ground as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fast-paced, evocative, and brutal, The Cold Cold Ground is a brilliant depiction of Belfast at the height of the Troubles -- and of a cop treading a thin, thin line.

Northern Ireland, spring 1981. Hunger strikes, riots, power cuts, a homophobic serial killer with a penchant for opera, and a young woman’s suicide that may yet turn out to be murder: on the surface, the events are unconnected, but then things -- and people -- aren’t always what they seem. Detective Sergeant Duffy is the man tasked with trying to get to the bottom of it all. It’s no easy…


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