Life’s Little Lesbian Mysteries: The good ol’ days

Ellen Hart, who began writing her Jane Lawless series in the late 1980s (with the most recent Lawless novel currently short listed for a Lambda award), observes: “Lesbian mysteries remain popular, although I think lesbian romance has overtaken the lead, and has begun to influence the way lesbian mysteries are written today. Very few lesbian mystery novels are published now that don’t include a central romance.”

Not only do they have a central romance, but they have lots of sex. This isn’t the case with every mystery written today, but it’s a significant trend. With the emphasis moving away from the intricacies of plot, which are the norm for mysteries, to the romantic arc of the main characters, it’s almost impossible to compare the two eras stylistically. While the books of the earlier time were revolutionary in that they brought us lesbian heroines, they also conformed to the traditional mystery format in many ways – a lone hero, a formidable antagonist, a piece by piece revelation of fact until the mystery is solved and the hero vanquished, and a complicated plot in which to accomplish all that.

Many, if not most, of the mysteries coming out of the main lesbian presses these days are no longer as concerned with social issues. I wrote a fairly traditional whodunit called Veritas, in which a college dean and a small town police chief solve a series of campus murders. My brother read it and said, “Everyone in that town is a lesbian!” Well, that wasn’t exactly true, but the point is that it didn’t occur to me as I was writing the book that my characters would be anything but out and comfortable, and that their world, like that of most lesbians, would have a lot of other lesbians in it, and the straight people around them would be more or less accepting of them.

Not only were the characters living in such an atmosphere, but the villain was someone who was murderous over tenure, not something related to homophobia and the oppressive system. In fact, at the risk of slightly giving away the ending to my own book, the murderer was a lesbian, which might be a complete reversal of what would have been written in that earlier time.

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