A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller

NATHAN ALDYNE – Slate. New York: Villard Books, 1984. Ballantine, paperback, 1985. Alyson, trade ppbk, 1999.


   This is the third in a series of novels featuring gay bartender Dan Valentine and his straight friend Clarisse Lovelace. As the story opens, Dan is in the hospital recovering from a bout of double pneumonia; Clarisse is just starting law school. The two embark on a new venture at the urging of Clarisse’s uncle Noah — co-ownership of a gay bar in Boston’s South End.

   The building, originally owned by Noah, is across from the District D police station and houses an odd mixture of tenants — including a lesbian couple (one is a swimming pool repair specialist, the other a call girl) who are allowed to stay, and a family of sixteen Gypsies that Clarisse evicts singlehandedly . Also present on the first floor next to the bar is Mr. Fred’s Tease ‘n’ Tint hairstyling establishment.

   As one might expect from such an odd starting lineup, events do not proceed smoothly. The bar and apartments above (where Clarisse and Dan propose to live) are a shambles. Fortunately, Dan’s new lover, Linc, is a carpenter of some creativity; with any luck, the bar, to be named Slate, will open for New Year’s.

   Enter Sweeney Drysdale II, columnist for BAR (Boston Area Reporter — a free newssheet on Boston’s bars). Sweeney’s column “makes bars … and breaks bars,” in his words. And he is determined to break Slate. Determined, that is, until he turns up dead in Clarisse’s bed on the evening Mr. Fred of hairstyling fame gives a little “do” to welcome his new neighbors.


   Events proceed against this zany background. Clarisse and Dan and sidekicks investigate with aplomb. But there’s a problem with this novel: It simply lacks substance. Not once are we allowed inside anyone’s head to find out what the character feels or why he is the way he is. There are gimmicks aplenty; everyone’s terribly eccentric and witty and shallow.

   One can’t help but compare Slate with the sensitive, richly detailed novels of Joseph Hansen, which depict gay life with realism and understanding. Against them, the Aldyne books don’t stack up; they’re like clever reproductions compared to the real thing.

   The previous books in this series are Vermilion (1980) and Cobalt (1982).

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

Bibliographic Notes:   “Nathan Aldyne” was the joint pseudonym of Michael McDowell and Dennis Schuetz. A fourth and final book in the series was Canary (1986). Follow the link for more information about both authors and short synopses of each of the books.