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Third Man Out

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This fourth mystery to feature Donald Strachey, a gay private investigator in Albany, N.Y., is nothing if not au courant. In the first five pages, readers encounter a gay-bashing incident, a patient dying of AIDS and activists wearing Queer Nation T-shirts.But the punch and distinctive voice of the earlier books are diminished here: it's as if Stevenson is overly concerned with political statements. Fearing for his life, writer/activist John Rutka--determinedly engaged in ``outing'' prominent citizens--retains Strachey when a bullet grazes his foot, but Strachey abandons the case when he suspects that the incident was staged. Soon our hero has a real mystery on his hands: Rutka is found dead, and any number of people might have cheerfully dispatched him. Rutka's files point to a particularly sinister closeted homosexual whom Strachey must unmask. Though the book's final third shifts into gear, it's not high enough; if a polemic was intended, the fuel gauge reads ``low.'' At one point Strachey is ``weary of all the secrecy and duplicity and dreary bitchery''--more of those very qualities might have at least jazzed up this rather pallid effort. (Feb.)

"Stevenson takes a familiar whodunnit formula and infuses it with new life. ... The action is lively, the plotting is honest and non-exploitative."

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