I was so excited when this book came to my attention, given that it takes place in Milwaukee, my hometown. The story takes place in the 1940s and follows police detective Heath Barrington, who is having a clandestine affair with another police officer, Alan Keyes. Given that being gay during this time period could lead to arrest, being institutionalized, and certainly fired from one’s job (especially if you’re a police officer!), it’s essential that the two men keep their relationship a secret.
So when Heath receives a note that says, “I know what you are,” his world crumbles. As it turns out, a low-life named Larry Crowe, a janitor as the police station, is blackmailing him to the tune of $500, or else he will tell everyone about Heath and Alan’s secret. After Heath meets with Larry, Heath, after having consumed several double-martinis at a local bar, decides to return to Larry’s apartment, perhaps to further negotiate with him. Heath’s not sure because he doesn’t remember anything after having left the bar — which is unfortunate because Larry was found murdered later that afternoon. Heath then becomes the prime suspect in Larry’s murder. And the kicker is that he’s not even certain of his own innocence given that the events of that afternoon for Heath are a complete blank and it’s not inconceivable that in his drunken state, he returned back to Larry’s apartment and killed him given that Larry was threatening him with utter ruin.
So even though it’s against the rules and could land Heath in some significant hot water, he, along with Alan, decides to investigate the crime and attempt to discover what really happened that afternoon. Luckily for Heath, he’s not the only suspect. We also have Heath’s cousin Liz who was married to the blackmailer, a dangerous gangster known as Vinnie the Horse, and Miss Caldwell, the local librarian who seems to be sweet on Larry’s current wife, Alice.
I loved the underlying tension throughout the story as we, along with Heath and Alan, journeyed to discover whether Heath did, in fact, kill Larry Crowe. The suspense is taut, but there is an emotional element at play here, and the story expertly portrayed the difficulties that gay people faced during this time period and how they always had to be extremely careful of what they said or how they acted, lest they find themselves in a whole heap of hot water. In this way, the author does a phenomenal job of portraying the atmosphere of a 1940s Milwaukee as well as illustrating the danger in being outed and how quickly it could quickly destroy lives, all of which really brought the story to life for me.
Additionally, the book explores some very real concerns about spousal abuse, intolerance, regret, secrets, and discrimination, and my heart broke in so several places as it was quite a traumatic roller coaster of a ride. I was overwhelmed with the deep impact portions of this story produced on me.
It was still a lot of fun to unravel the mystery of what happened to Larry Crowe, and what we end up with then is a twisted and suspenseful little mystery that entangles secrets, identity, and murder. Death Overdue is a masterful historical fiction set in the late 1940s that illuminates the very real issues of discrimination and intolerance. Moreover, it’s a well-written, lovely, eloquent, and engaging story with a twisty little mystery to solve. I definitely plan on picking up more books by this author
A huge thank you to NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book.