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HIGH DESERT
by Katherine V. Forrest
Spinsters Ink, December 2013
290 pages
$16.95
ISBN: 1935226657


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It has been thirty years since Katharine V. Forrest's AMATEUR CITY broke new ground by introducing a lesbian detective, Kate Delafield, of the LAPD. At the time, Kate was in the closet - the LAPD in 1984 being rather resistant to women police officers let alone lesbian ones. But her life as Forrest described it did mirror the life of lesbians in the eighties in Los Angeles thoughtfully and affirmatively. Six novels followed in the ensuing twenty years; then silence. But now, happily, Kate is back, though recently retired from the force and forced to confront a number of personal crises of loss and ageing without the buffer of a career in law enforcement to keep the demons at bay. She does have Cutty Sark, however.

And that's of course part of the problem and why her lover of many years has walked out once again, unwilling to deal with Kate's drinking. To make things worse, Maggie, former owner of the Nightwood Bar, is dying in a hospice and has asked Kate to help speed her on her way. Both Kate the cop and Kate the person recoil in horror from the request.

In retirement Kate is fast developing into that lesbian cliché - a woman alone in her condo with only her cat for company. So it comes as a considerable relief when Captain Carolina Walcott of the LAPD asks Kate to look into the disappearance of Cameron, who was Kate's partner on the force. He appears to have engineered his own departure, taking considerable pains not to call attention to it, but why? Presumably Walcott is genuinely concerned about Cameron and wants to protect him if he's in some kind of trouble, but she is also worried about Kate. That's why she puts her in touch with a psychologist, Calla Dearborn, whom Kate had seen when they both were with the police.

In searching out Cameron, Kate employs all of her considerable detection skills only to discover that the man whom she had believed to be a close friend had been keeping some devastating personal secrets from her. Still, she puts herself in great personal danger to help him and share his peril. Even worse, in a way, is that she is willing to consider compromising her very strict ethical standards to help her friend.

The taut plotting and careful interpretation of well-laid clues that characterized some of the earlier books in the series take second place to Kate's reluctant investigation of her own failings and desperation. Still, there is a satisfyingly suspenseful climax that puts both Kate and Cameron in mortal danger. But the book has something of the quality of an elegy, of the author's settling up with what she'd left undone in Kate's character to date. If there is any disappointment, it is in the sense that some of Kate's victories are a bit swiftly won, that her community is too understanding, too supportive. Nevertheless, at the end, we feel that Kate is finally on the road to some sort of hard-won peace and are glad for her.

Spinsters Ink has been re-issuing the Kate Delafield series, which gives readers the opportunity for a fascinating look at the changing lives of American gay women over the past thirty years. But even more, it permits them to participate in the growth and maturation of a distinctive and winning protagonist in Kate.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, April 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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