After loving Devil’s Chew Toy by Rob Osler (you should read it!!) I was on the lookout for more LGBTQ mysteries, and discovered that Ellen Hart created a cult classic lesbian detective in Hallowed Murder, published 1989. Best of all, most of this series is still available through Rivershare at our local libraries.
In Hallowed Murder, we meet restaurateur Jane Lawless (and her theatrical friend Cordelia Thorne) and learn that she has started volunteering at her old college sorority, against the objections of Cordelia, who feels that Jane gives the sorority too much loyalty, considering it would have rejected her outright if it had known Jane’s sexuality. But then one of the senior students at the sorority dies suddenly, and while the police are dismissive (especially after the girl’s relationship with another woman comes out), Jane feels there’s more to the story and starts to investigate. Soon she finds herself drawn into a world of religious fanatics, blackmail, and fear, but remains determined to find out the truth.
As a longtime Agatha Christie reader I loved that this book paired a vintage tone and writing style with LGBTQ-inclusive characters. Like Christie’s work, it’s a product of its time, but in this case its time was the 1980s and 1990s, so it’s more aware of modern sensibilities and ethics. Unlike other modern cozy mysteries, however, it doesn’t have that (apparently compulsory) formulaic storyline of the feisty heroine getting drawn into a turbulent relationship with a strong but sensitive local man or two — yawn! Instead there are slow hints of a relationship in Jane’s past that still haunts her, which is truer to Christie’s Poirot (as most recently shown in the recent Poirot films Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile by Kenneth Branagh) than to a modern cozy detective.
It’s definitely fascinating to read a work of 80s queer literature in 2022 and see how the language has changed around identity, not to mention social perception. The religious abuse and general scandal that the LGBTQ characters face in this book paints a stark picture of what it was like to be queer at that time, and remind us that some places still feature this kind of social and religious persecution toward LGBTQ people. At the same time, Hart also chooses to have one toxic character begin to realize how flawed religious ideas are, which lends the whole thing a hopeful air.
I’m excited to see where this series goes and how Jane Lawless develops as a character – if you’re looking for an inclusive cozy mystery series to try, come along with me on this journey!