Boystown: Three Nick Nowak Mysteries

Gay & Lesbian, Mystery & Thrillers

By Marshall Thornton

Publisher : Torquere Press

ABOUT Marshall Thornton

Marshall Thornton
Marshall Thornton is an award-winning screenwriter, playwright and author living in Long Beach, California. He has an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA where he won the Carl David Memorial Fellowship for his romantic-comedy, Husband Material, as well as a BA in Creative Writing from Calif More...



A former police officer turned private investigator, Nick Nowak is haunted by his abrupt departure from the department, as well as, the traumatic end of his relationship with librarian Daniel Laverty. In these three stories set in Chicago during the early eighties, Nick locates a missing young man for a mysterious client, solves a case of arson at a popular nightspot, and goes undercover to prove a dramatic suicide was actually murder. When he isn’t detecting, and sometimes when he is, Nick moves through a series of casual relationships. But his long suppressed romantic side surfaces when he meets Detective Bert Harker. Will he give love another chance? Or, will he continue to bury himself in the arms of strangers?

From Rainbow Reviews, British Bulldog

In the first story, "Little Boy Found," we really get to know Nick. At first I can’t say I particularly liked him. He was promiscuous and seemed rather uncaring about everyone other than himself. Also he smokes. But Thornton’s excellent storytelling had me soon reconsidering. The “boy” who was found in this story was Brian. I liked how once Nick’s conscience tugged at him, he went above and beyond to watch over Brian.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say Nick is a protector, even though he’s a former cop. But he certainly came alive and three-dimensional in this opening story.

"Little Boy Burned" sees Nick being woken in the early morning to begin investigating a fire at Paradise Isle, a gay nightclub where Nick works the door two nights a week. The “boy burned” is Bernie, one of the bartenders.

Thornton gives us bits of information, such as the coat his friend Ross wears, the garment actually belonging to Nick. Such information doesn’t advance the plot but it helps paint the scene, even tells us a little about both Nick and Ross. Such attention to detail raises Thornton’s writing above the average.

I still got irritated with Nick. He rarely keeps in touch with Brian from the first story, and when Brian comes over to cook him a meal, he has to first wash Nick’s frying pan that was put away dirty. Again, such details aren’t designed to advance the plot, but say much about the lives of the characters.

I enjoy mysteries, but rarely can work out whodunit prior to the truth being revealed. In fact, if I can solve the case then it’s usually because the author has done a poor job. I was unable to determine for myself who had torched the Paradise Isle. So well done, Mr. Thornton.

Nick’s front door continues to revolve as his sex partners enter and exit. Pity he can’t seem to just stick to one. My favourite in this second story was Hank, a fireman. I don’t think I’ve got a uniform fetish, but I’d have to do more practical research before being able to say for certain.

"Little Boy Fallen" sees Lenny, a seemingly happy young man with plenty to live for suddenly fall from a seventh story balcony. The cops seem to think it's suicide and close the case. Lenny's mother isn't so sure, so hires Nick to investigate.

This third story was just as edge-of-the-seat enjoyable as the previous two. If I were Nick I'd avoid heights as much as possible as he does seem to experience dramatic moments atop them. Most pleasing of all to me about this story was the hope that Nick finally finds his true love, but the story, and the book, ends before this can be explored.

Thornton does a first-class job of getting the reader centred in the Chicago of the early '80s. The locations feel right, the descriptions of pre-HIV unsafe sex practices, police and societal attitudes toward homosexuality, plus news events of the era, all help set the scene.

I sincerely hope the author will revisit Nick Nowak in future books. I'll be sure to buy them on the strength of these three stories.