Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind
by Marshall Thornton
Reviewed by John Francis Leonard
I’ll admit, when my Arts Editor passed on this novel, part of a series, for me to consider reviewing, I was hesitant. A gay detective story sounded to me like the mass-produced gay lit that one finds in the “gay” section of one’s local Barnes & Noble. But, I told myself, these kinds of books must be popular for a reason and I’ve actually been eager to find one that approaches the HIV/AIDS crisis and adds to the conversation. The old adage “you should never judge a book by its cover” proved very true. Not only does Boystown 8 deal with the early days of AIDS beautifully, but it is also a skillfully written and entertaining read. No mean feat for any author.
It’s 1984 in the city of Chicago. As he’s investigating the case of a local mobster for the law firm he works for, private eye Nick Nowack lands right in the middle of another murder investigation. There is a brutal shooting of the “ trick” of a local investigative reporter looking to land a story and make a name for himself. Nick knows this reporter through several previous sexual liaisons and is not a fan. He becomes embroiled in a story that the man was writing about. It involves a prominent local gay business owner who is the S&M master of a bevy of attractive young sex slaves. Nothing is simple or what it seems however, and his investigation leads him in unexpected and dangerous directions.
Nick’s private life, as would be any gay man’s in a city like Chicago in that year, has been deeply affected by the AIDS crisis. He’s lost close friends and more than one former lover to the disease. The pandemic is not the central theme of the book, but it is always there, affecting the sexual mores of the time and exacting its price on a beleaguered community. Thornton handles the subject adroitly and with great depth and sensitivity. Condoms as a means of prevention are just coming to the fore at this moment. Some, like our protagonist, insist on their use. Many are still hesitant.
This novel is wonderful entertainment; it is a great detective story. Thornton easily avoids the cliches of many books of this genre and takes the book to a higher level. I greatly look forward to future books in the series and am interested in how Thornton will deal with the pandemic as the eighties play out.
John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for thirteen years and he is currently at work on his first novel, Fools Rush In. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.