I’m delighted to welcome David Stuart Davies, author of Blood Rites to Linda’s Book Bag today. David has written a wonderful guest post about why he has made his protagonist homosexual in Blood Rites.
1980s Yorkshire. DI Paul Snow has a personal demon. He is a homosexual but is desperate to keep it secret, knowing it would finish his career in the intolerant police force. As this personal drama unfolds, he is involved in investigating a series of violent murders in the town. All the victims appear to be chosen at random and appear to have no connection with each other. After the fourth murder, he is removed from the case for not finding the killer but continues investigating the matter privately.
Gradually, Paul manages to determine a link between the murder victims, but this places his own life in great danger. Can Paul unmask the killer as he wrestles with his own demons?
A Gay Policeman’s Lot
A Guest Post by David Stuart Davies
Homosexuals in drama and literature have usually been presented as either freaks of nature or fools. The gay man has often been portrayed as a fop or a comic camp character, all limp wrists, sarcasm and soppy voices – think John Inman in Are You Being Served?, Melvyn Hayes in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, and Jules and Sandy in Round the Horne. One sensitive shining light in these risible scenarios in the mainstream culture was the film Victim (1961) starring Dirk Bogarde, which presented the real dilemma of a sensitive, married gay man who had achieved success as a lawyer. The movie revealed the cruel way that such individuals can easily fall prey to unscrupulous blackmailers. I had Victim in mind while writing my latest novel, Blood Rites, which features a gay policeman.
It wasn’t until 1967 – ten years after the Wolfenden Report – that MP Leo Abse introduced the Sexual Offences Bill, supported by Labour MP Roy Jenkins, then the Labour Home Secretary. When passed, the Act decriminalised homosexual acts between two men over 21 years of age in private in England and Wales. The 1967 Act did not extend to Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, where all homosexual behaviour remained illegal. Remarkably it was not until 1980 that the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 decriminalised homosexual acts between two men over 21 years of age in Scotland.
In 1984 Chris Smith, newly elected to the UK parliament declared: ‘My name is Chris Smith. I’m the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury, and I’m gay’, making him the first openly homosexual politician in the UK parliament. This brave gesture, which could have encouraged others to follow suit was counteracted to a large extent by the spread of AIDS, which helped to fuel a backlash against homosexuals. AIDS prompted the introduction of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 enacted as an amendment to the United Kingdom’s Local Government Act. This stated that a local authority, ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’ or ‘promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. It is therefore not surprising that nearly twenty three years after the act of decriminalisation, homosexuals were still reluctant to go public.
So in the mid-1980s it’s no wonder that Detective Inspector Paul Snow, the central character Blood Rites was determined to keep his head below the parapet. He is well aware of how he would be treated by his colleagues and his superior officers if it became known that he was ‘queer.’ This is one stressful dilemma that is a permanent feature of his life, despite the fact that he strives to be celibate, thus providing no evidence of his sexuality. As Peter Tatchell observed: ‘In the past, LGBT+ police officers were closeted and repressed. They were agents of a homophobic institution and lived in fear of being outed and sacked’.
I am hetrosexual but I have profound sympathy for Paul and those in a similar position. At the beginning of my book, I quote a statement made by the actor John Fraser in his autobiography which has strong resonances with Paul Snow in Blood Rites. Fraser wrote:
‘Homosexuals then had three choices:
One. To conform to society’s expectations. To marry and have children.
Two. To be celibate.
Three. To live a double life, fraught with danger – of violence or blackmail – and to live it alone.’
As a teenager I had a strong friendship with a lad my own age – let’s call him Cliff. We had a tremendous rapport, shared the same tastes in books, films and had similar senses of humour. We went everywhere together and were seen as a couple: Dave – and – Cliff. Although we were heterosexual with an eye for the girls, because of our closeness a few rumours began circulating that we might be gay. Once these reached the ears of Cliff’s parents, they did all in their power to break us up, preventing him from meeting me. In the end they succeeded and eventually I lost touch with him completely. Despite the gay rumours being unfounded, their prejudice still remains an unpleasant memory. What if we had been gay? Splitting us up would not have altered a thing.
In the 21st century, views on homosexuality are more liberal, but there is still a lot of hatred and persecution in the world. While more and more individuals feel free to declare that they are gay, for some, sadly the closet still beckons.
While the purpose of Blood Rites is to thrill and entertain – it is a crime novel after all – I also hope it also gives the reader pause to consider the issues it raises.
(How brilliantly put David. Thanks so much for such a thought provoking piece.)
About David Stuart Davies
David Stuart Davies is an author, playwright and editor. His fiction includes six novels featuring his wartime detective Johnny Hawke, Victorian puzzle solver artist Luther Darke, and seven Sherlock Holmes novels – the latest being Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper Legacy (2016). His non-fiction work includes Starring Sherlock Holmes, detailing the film career of the Baker Street sleuth.
David is regarded as an authority on Sherlock Holmes and is the author of two Holmes plays, Sherlock Holmes: The Last Act and Sherlock Holmes: The Death and Life, which are available on audio CD. He has written the Afterwords for all the Collector’s Library Holmes volumes, as well as those for many of their other titles.
David has also penned three dark, gritty crime novels set in Yorkshire in the 1980s: Brothers in Blood, Innocent Blood and Blood Rites. He is a committee member of the Crime Writers’ Association and edits their monthly publication Red Herrings. His collection of ghost and horror stories appeared in 2015, championed by Mark Gatiss who said they were ‘pleasingly nasty.’
David is General Editor of Wordsworth’s Mystery & Supernatural series and a past Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund. He has appeared at many literary festivals and the Edinburgh Fringe performing his one man presentation The Game’s Afoot – an evening with Sherlock Holmes & Arthur Conan Doyle. He was recently made a member of The Detection Club.
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