‘Aaron Bradley, Closet Detective’ by Timothy Owen
Author: Drewey Wayne Gunn
September 18, 2010
Despite its title, this is not a mystery, not even an inverted mystery. It is a crime novel, only the second gay crime novel that I know of to come from a South African writer (the first being L.J. Harris’s Revival, a detective novel published in South Africa in 2006).
Because of his skills with his hands, Aaron Bradley, independently wealthy, has drifted into becoming a jack-of-all trades at the call of his friends. Still, he does not quite like it when his best friend, Joe Morrison, a Johannesburg public prosecutor, asks him to tail his girlfriend to find out why she so often mysteriously disappears.
Two things happen as a result: First, Aaron is put into the dilemma of what to reveal to Joe about Candice Freeman when he discovers that she may be an art gallery representative by day, but she is a cat burglar at night, complicated by the fact that she also seems to be working as a savior for vagrants with nowhere to go. Secondly, he finds himself attracted to Bo Wilson, the cute Irish-born waiter at the restaurant he uses for his initial stakeout and for the first time seriously considers that he, Aaron, may be gay.
Until now, he has more or less sleepwalked through his sexual life. The author’s buildup of Aaron’s character has been so convincing that, for once, the reader can almost believe such was possible. The rest of the novel intertwines Aaron’s resolutions of these two dilemmas.
For American readers, a curious aspect of the novel may be how little foreign the setting and the characters seem. There is only one political statement: “The release of Nelson Mandela from Robben Island in 1990 had effectively ended the criminally inhumane apartheid regime. It had set in motion a sequence of events that would see the country become a world leader in setting standards of equality for its people. […] South Africa was one of the first countries to endorse gay marriage.” If any of the characters are African natives, they are not identified as such.
Bo’s militant gay poems are scattered across the novel, but its general tone is easygoing. The concluding scene, consequently, seems all the more shocking and unnecessarily cruel, the one lapse in the author’s otherwise good judgment.