Joseph Hansen, a mystery novelist known for crisp, lean prose and for creating one of his genre's first gay protagonists in the character of Dave Brandstetter, has died at the age of 81. Hansen died of heart failure at his home on November 24, his family reported. He had long suffered from respiratory illness. Hansen had already published five novels and a collection of short stories dealing frankly with gay subject matter under the name James Colton when Fadeout, the first of 12 Brandstetter mystery novels, was released in 1970.
Brandstetter was a tough, street-smart shamus who was typical of the genre in every way except one. "My joke was to take the true hard-boiled character in American fiction tradition and make him homosexual," Hansen told The Orange County Register in 1998. "He was going to be a nice man, a good man, and he was doing to do his job well." San Francisco lawyer Michael Nava, who writes a series of mysteries featuring gay attorney Henry Rios, credited Hansen as a pioneer. "Not that he was just a good gay writer, but he is right up there with Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald in terms of being one of the great California mystery writers," Nava said.
In all, Hansen wrote nearly 40 books, including mainstream novels and a series of semiautobiographical works based on his early years as a struggling writer. He also taught fiction workshops, published poems in The New Yorker and produced a local radio show in the 1960s called Homosexuality Today. Hansen's wife, Jane Bancroft, died in 1994. He once described their relationship as that of a gay man and woman who happened to love each other. "Here was this remarkable person who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. We were married 51 years. So something was right about it, however bizarre it may seem to the rest of the world," he said. The couple had a daughter who later underwent gender reassignment. He is Hansen's only survivor.