Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Recommended reading: Fault Line by H.N. Hirsch

Meet the creator of amateur gay detectives Bob and Marcus, the characters behind two novels and a soon-to-be-released third.

H.N. Hirsch celebrates Fault Line, a murder mystery set in the political world of Southern California and the sequel to Shade, his first in the series (set in the Ivy League). In Fault Line, Bob has completed law school and landed a job as an Assistant District Attorney in San Diego, and Marcus has accepted a new position at UC San Diego. As they settle in to their new home, they’re thrust into the investigation and its political ramification, and they find that a gay subculture roils much of southern California’s placidly straight surface.

This series compliments H.N. Hirsch’s other literary works Office Hours: One Academic Life, The Enigma of Felix Frankfurter, and The Future of Gay Rights in America. All of H.N. Hirsch’s writing is memorable and compelling. We recently spoke to H.N. Hirsch about his mystery series and what is ahead in the series.

QF: What made you decide to write mysteries after being a college professor for so long?

H.N. Hirsch: Well. . . I have always been a fan of mystery series: Tony Hillerman, Stuart Woods, Dorothy Sayers, Amanda Cross. I tend to binge on authors I like.

Amanda Cross was in reality Carolyn Heilbrun, a very distinguished professor of literature at Columbia in New York. When I read her novels, which feature a detective who is also professor, I thought, “Hmm. It could be fun to write something like this,” with gay characters and a professor-detective.

And then there was the accident of timing—I retired from teaching just as Covid hit and I was on lockdown, like everyone else. So, not being able to travel at all, or do much of anything, I thought, “Well, it’s now or never.”

QF: Tell us about the setting of each.

H.N. Hirsch: Shade is set at Harvard, and I make some fun at its pretentiousness. Marcus George, the amateur detective, is an assistant professor there—just as I was. The murder victim is his former student, who is murdered in a resort town in Maine. Marcus is asked by the student’s wealthy family to look into the crime. As he does that, he meets Bob, who becomes his romantic interest.

Fault Line is set in San Diego. Bob has graduated from law school and is an assistant district attorney there. He takes the lead in this murder—the murder of the mayor’s husband—along with the police. Marcus now teaches at the University of California campus there, which is where I taught after my stint at Harvard.

QF: So two very different settings.

H.N. Hirsch: Yes, extremely different. When I moved from Harvard/Boston to San Diego and the University of California in real life, it felt like moving from Earth to Mars. Shade’s setting is really academia, and the world of the Boston elite. Fault Line is set in the political world. And California really is a different country.

QF: Is there another novel in the works?

H.N. Hirsch: Yes. Shade takes place in 1985, Fault Line in 1989. One of my goals in those was to document what it was like to be gay in that era—the era of Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush, and, of course, the AIDS crisis. The next novel, the third, is set in 1994, and it’s now the Clinton era. I’ll be having some fun with that.

QF: And are Bob and Marcus still together?

H.N. Hirsch: Yes, but they’ve hit some bumps in the road, which will make it interesting.


Please enjoy this excerpt from Fault Line.


On his first day in California, Bob Abramson awoke to an earthquake, rain, and murder.
The clock radio went off just as a mellow California voice was announcing “a small earthquake.” For a moment Bob felt completely disoriented, didn’t know where he was. His heart raced.

He quickly glanced at his Filofax, open on the bedside table. Saturday, July 8, 1989. He remembered where he was and what he was doing in this strange room with suitcases and boxes spread out all over the floor. He took a few deep breaths.

Marcus must have set the alarm, although why, Bob couldn’t fathom.

Bob had flown in the night before. Marcus had scurried to come out a few days sooner to meet the movers, who arrived ahead of schedule from the East.

He pulled himself out of bed and wondered what you were supposed to do after an earthquake. Having grown up and gone to school on the East coast, he was terrified of earthquakes, not to mention mud slides and fires, all the things he knew were possible in Southern California beneath the placid, gorgeous surface.

He glanced around the room and nothing seemed to have moved, then peered out the window. A drizzle was coming down but everything was still in place, all the houses and lawns and cars neat and tidy, just as they had been when they looked at the house a few months before.

His panic subsided.

He looked at the clock radio: 6:30. The mellow voice was explaining that the quake was “only” a 3.2, nothing to worry about, no damage reported. He trudged to the bathroom, tripping over an open suitcase.

When he came out he could smell Marcus’s scrambled eggs. He pulled on gym shorts and a T shirt as he walked into the kitchen. He kissed the back of Marcus’s neck and announced “we’ve had a small earthquake.”

“You mean last night?” Marcus smiled. Having been separated for a few days and exhausted with packing for a week before that, they both had been more than ready for sex.

Bob smiled. “No, a real one. It was on the radio. 3.2. I guess that counts as little. No damage. But what is this rain? I thought this was sunny California.”

Marcus chuckled as Bob added pepper to the eggs. Marcus always forgot the pepper.

“It’s called June Gloom,” Marcus said. “Someone explained it to me. The desert east of here heats up fast as warmer weather arrives, pulls in mist from the ocean, so for a while there can be gray skies or drizzle.”
“My first day, rain and an earthquake.”
“Don’t be a grouch. There’s coffee. This will be done in two minutes.”

Bob poured himself a cup and stood at the open door to the patio. He peered out at the yard of their new house and inhaled: orange blossoms, sweet and a bit soapy. Freshly cut grass. The drizzle felt peaceful.

He smiled again. He could get used to this, he thought to himself. The air was never sweet in Boston. If you were lucky, it didn’t carry the smell of car exhaust.

He heard a thump at the front door and realized Marcus must have started delivery of the local newspaper. He retrieved it, and as he walked back into the kitchen, pulled it out of the blue plastic wrapper. He opened the paper and was stunned by a huge headline in bold type:

MAYOR’S HUSBAND FOUND DEAD

What he didn’t know is that in just 24 hours, he would be knee-deep in the investigation of that murder.

Get Fault Line here.


About the Author

H. N. Hirsch is a writer and political scientist who has taught at Harvard, UC-San Diego, Macalester College, and Oberlin, where he served as Dean of the Faculty and is now the Erwin N. Griswold Professor of Politics Emeritus. He is the author of The Enigma of Felix Frankfurter (“brilliant” according to the New York Times), A Theory of Liberty, the memoir Office Hours, and numerous articles, as well as the edited volume, The Future of Gay Rights in America. Fault Line is his second novel featuring amateur detectives Bob and Marcus, who were introduced in Shade in 2022. A third volume, Rain, will appear in 2024.

Queer Forty Staff

Queer Forty writing staff work hard to bring you all the latest articles to help inspire and inform.

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