Richard Lipez, novelist who starred a gay private detective, dies at 83


Strachey first appeared in the 1981 novel “tower of deathwhich explored the dark strains of gay culture and brought a new sensibility to hard crime fiction. (Mr. Lipez’s detective was named after Lytton Stracheyan openly gay British writer of the early 20th century.)

There had been other gay protagonists in detective fiction before – notably Joseph Hansen’s angsty insurance underwriter, Dave Brandstetter, who made his debut in 1970. But the private detectives typical of Raymond Chandler’s novels, Ross Macdonald or Robert B. Parker were hard-bitten men who had difficult relationships with women and alcohol.

The gay characters, when they appeared, “were either masochistic killers or pathetic victims or victims of blackmail,” Mr. Lipez said in a 1998 interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air.”

Strachey was a fact about his identity and had a solid relationship with his partner, Timmy Callahan. The clever repartee between them echoed Nick and Nora Charles in Dashiell Hammett’s 1930s “Thin Man” novels.

Mr. Lipez’s books “were a crucial expression of the transformation of the American badass genre during” the 1980s, literary critic and scholar Maureen Corrigan wrote in an email, “when suddenly women, people of color and gay and lesbian characters intervened. in the detective role, which until then had been dominated by straight white guys who looked and acted like Sam Spade,” another character created by Hammett.

“Dick’s mysteries were not only politically sharp, but witty and gripping,” Corrigan added. “I often teach them in my American Crime Fiction class in Georgetown.”

Mr. Lipez’s novels frequently dealt with issues related to gay life, such as “conversion” therapy by a quack therapist or the murder of a gay activist who exposed gay men in confinement. Strachey, a former police detective, was left to sort out the bad guys from the victims and restore some semblance of order to his clients’ lives.

Many of Mr. Lipez’s Strachey novels are set in Albany, NY, or other declining northeast locations. In “Strachey’s Folly” (1998), he describes Log Heaven, a small town clearly modeled after his hometown of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania:

“Three large furniture factories I passed on the outskirts of town were dark and closed. And the only major employer I spotted was a mobile home assembly plant. I passed River Street. The Susquehanna, one of America’s most beautiful rivers, was no longer visible from the town the river had once apparently made prosperous.

Richard Stevenson Lipez was born on November 30, 1938 in Lock Haven. His mother was a housewife and his father was a broadcaster who founded a radio station, where young Richard was a jazz disc jockey.

After graduating from what is now Lock Haven University, Mr. Lipez joined the Peace Corps in 1962 and spent two years in Ethiopia. He then worked as a Washington-based program evaluator, visiting Peace Corps workers around the world. In 1967, he moved to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, where he ran a social service agency.

He became a full-time writer in 1970, contributing humorous articles to magazines and writing editorials for the Berkshire Eagle newspaper. He published his first novel, “Grand Scam”, written with Peter Stein, in 1979.

Beginning in 1985, he wrote nearly 200 book reviews for The Post, mostly on mystery novels. His reviews usually appeared in the Style section, often covering four or five books at once, and drew effortlessly on a wide range of cultural references, from Shakespeare to François Truffaut’s films to the poetry of TS Eliot and a parade. centenary of mysterious writers.

“He was an ideal reviewer: engaged, adept at summarizing a plot, not shy about judgment, witty, and happy to take advice from an editor,” said the former editor-in-chief. Mr. Lipez’s Post chief, Dennis Drabelle, in an email. “When he liked a book, he re-read it with the same kind of verve that a high-spirited guest shows when introducing a friend to the rest of a party.”

Mr. Lipez’s last review for The Post appeared on the day of his death.

Mr. Lipez’s first marriage, to Hedy Harris, ended in divorce. Survivors include Joe Wheaton, an artist and former restaurateur who had been her partner since 1990 and her husband since 2004, from Becket; two children from his first marriage, Sydney Lipez of New Rochelle, NY, and Zachary Lipez of New York; a brother; and a sister.

Before his death, Mr. Lipez had completed two new novels, one featuring a gay detective in 1940s Philadelphia and the other which will be the 17th installment in the Strachey series. Several of Strachey’s books have been adapted for film, and many of them are being republished by ReQueered Tales, a company specializing in gay and lesbian fiction.

“I don’t think any of my books are frivolous,” Mr. Lipez said on “Fresh Air.” “These are always serious questions – sometimes serious moral questions. And they have humor in them and I hope they’re entertaining, but there’s always a seriousness that I hear.


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