From Stage (Not Waving Drowning, 2012, etc.), a novel about sexually transmitted diseases and a man sent to investigate them in 1980s St. Louis.
“Shaun Malloy, VD Control”—that’s how Malloy likes to introduce himself when the need arises. As a venereal disease investigator for the city’s health department, his job involves tracking down outbreaks of syphilis and gonorrhea among others. Though his line of work gets him involved with film noir types like pimps, prostitutes, and assorted members of the sexual underground, he carries no firearm and his authority is vaguely limited to, as one character mockingly puts it, “some law that says something to the effect that citizens must cooperate with public health officials to stop the spread of communicable disease.” Investigating a homosexual hookup operation called “Man 2 Man,” Malloy must try to mine personal information from decidedly unhelpful individuals. Along with his regular duties of mobile VD testing in gay bar basements and his admittedly “horndog” lifestyle, he is a busy public employee who happens to be in love with the city he serves. This is particularly the case as, in later pages, the AIDS crisis rears its head. This gritty investigation of the Gateway to the West offers a darkly humorous take on unsightly lesions, burning discharges, and various other unfortunate consequences faced by the sexually active citizenry. Though many supporting characters fall into stereotypes—Malloy “could smell the fried chicken” on the breath of a black sex shop worker—readers will appreciate this stripe of intrigue particularly if, like Malloy, they find joy in mentions of syphilis in Shakespeare and Casanova.
An alluring investigation into the seaminess of sleaze.