THE P-TOWN MURDERS
Publication date June 2008
In a place that's “to die for,” no one expects to die for real.
So muses undercover detective Bradford Fairfax after an anonymous caller
reveals to him that his ex-boyfriend, party boy Ross Pretty, has died from an
ecstasy overdose in “the gayest place on earth” -- Provincetown, Massachusetts.
But as the body of another “overdose” victim washes up on the shores of P-Town,
Brad becomes convinced that Ross's death is no accident, and his intention to
bury his former lover suddenly turns into a full-scale investigation. It seems
that freewheeling P-Town has a dark side, one full of greed, jealousy, and
Brad quickly pins the murder on Ross's ex-employer, the malevolent Hayden Rosengarten, owner of a high-end sex resort catering to a rich and famous
clientele for whom discretion is everything. But when Rosengarten also turns up
dead, the list of suspects suddenly grows: could it be Cinder Lindquist, the
flamboyant female-impersonator? Or Johnny K., one of Rosengarten's merciless
henchmen? What about Big Ruby, the lesbian café owner with a big heart, but an
even bigger gun? To top it all off, Brad finds himself falling in love with
Zach, a blue-haired twink from his past. But can he trust him? In P-Town it
seems everyone has a secret to hide.
Read an excerpt...
A Reader's Guide to
'The P'Town Murders'
I made my first pilgrimage to Provincetown in September 1991 and stayed at
Romeo's Guesthouse on Bradford St, near the Pilgrim Monument. Until then,
I had only heard vague references to Provincetown as being a gay Mecca.
The impetus for the trip was a former boyfriend, Joseph Van Veen, who had
completed a cycling tour from Toronto to Provincetown the year before. We
dated briefly before he went on a European tour and left me with a photo
of him on the way to Provincetown. It burned into my memory.
My initial attempt to reach Provincetown nearly ended in disaster. I
stayed overnight in Boston then got up early to catch the Provincetown
Fast Ferry. Arriving at the pier in a light rain, I smelled greasy eggs
and acidic coffee. Happily, I turned down breakfast.
Half an hour out, we were hit by twenty-foot waves. Nearly
everyone--including the crew--was seasick. People lay on the floor
clinging to table legs or hung onto refuse barrels in passageways. The
smell of vomit was overwhelming. I escaped to the top deck and shared a
quiet spot with a young Asian girl. To see the ocean in turmoil was
exciting, but I hadn't felt a thing.
Arriving back in Boston, I made friends with a fellow traveller named
David Jones. We shared lunch in Chinatown then continued to Provincetown
by bus. I spent three days there, much of it in David's company (he was a
houseboy at another guesthouse.)
It rained the entire time. I had fun, mostly thanks to David, but didn't
get much sense of the place. One of my lasting memories, however, was of
all the men gathered outside Spiritus Pizza on Commercial St every night
starting just before midnight and continuing into the early hours.
Eleven years passed. When I returned, I stayed with a Canadian who worked
there under the table, one of many who visited and were unable to leave. I
slept on an air mattress on her bedroom floor. Uncomfortable as it was, I
felt grateful to be there. What I remember most from this trip were the
same-sex couples holding hands and wandering in peace and unfettered
freedom. To me, it was the Promised Land.
Over the better part of a week, I took every opportunity to explore. I got
a good feel for the town, its dunes, beaches and bars, and had a brief but
intense affair with a man named Charlie, who introduced me to Race Point,
later an important location in the book.
This time, I was hooked by the cape and the tiny jewel of a town at its
furthermost point. I'd finally felt the magic. A year later, I'd met a new
boyfriend, Shane, an avid traveller like me. That September, we drove
there. Unable to afford the expensive B&Bs--an integral part of any P-town
experience--we reluctantly decided to tent in a campground outside town.
On the way, we stopped in Boston to visit my friends Janice Hill and
Uppinder Mehan. Janice suggested that her boss, Ned Bradford, might let us
stay at his newly purchased Provincetown home.
I was doubtful. Most Provincetown guesthouses started at $90 a night. We
had a strict budget and could only offer what we intended to spend at the
campground: $30 a night. To my surprise, Ned agreed. He warned us the
house was sparsely furnished, as he'd only recently purchased the
property. No matter--we were game.
From outside, Ned's was one of several complexes at the intersection of
Route 6 and 6A, or Bradford Street. (If you're looking for it, it's the
one with the rusted ship's anchor in front.) Inside, it was spectacular,
with its open architecture and unimpeded view of the dunes and the ocean,
just one block from where the pilgrims first landed.
Along with a fridge, stove and potted palm, it had one small bed and a
marbled bath. But that was all we needed. It was paradise. We stocked the
fridge with wine and food and went out to explore.
On our second day, we decided to try the Jacuzzi. I'd just stood up to
towel off when I glanced across the way and saw a pair of binoculars
trained on me. I flashed the guy and stepped out of the tub. In that
moment, however, I had a flash of my own: one of being spied on, shot at,
and stalked along the streets of Provincetown. I suddenly found myself in
a murder mystery, a genre I'd never considered before.
The entire trip, I ran into people or overheard things I knew would end up
in the book. One day, as we walked along Bradford St, an older woman
called out to us to be careful. Seconds later, a fast moving car came
perilously close to hitting us. “They'll mow you down like wheat!” she
cried. In that moment, the character Big Ruby was born. By then, the book
was in full swing. I already knew its title: The P'Town Murders
(revised to “P-town” in the second edition.)
On my return, I churned out a rough draft in 18 days, at for me an
astonishing rate of 2,500 words per day--nearly ten times my normal speed.
A number of Provincetown landmarks made it into the book. The Pilgrim
Monument provided one of the book's most enjoyable scenes, where a masked
killer stalks Brad and Zach around its upper deck. There was a historic
building known as the Ice House, now gone, but it wasn't where I located
it in the story. A modern-day Ice House exists as a condo unit, but my Ice
House is largely fictional.
In writing this book, my intention was to create a world where LGBTQ folk
were the norm: where we could be heroes and villains as well as victims. I
also began to form a plan for a series, with each volume set in a
well-known gay resort.
I soon had a polished draft ready to make the rounds of publishers. As far
as I was concerned, I'd written P'Town for the American market, and
it would be sold there. My first published novel, A Cage of Bones,
went unsold in Canada for five years before I sent it to an American and
British publisher. Both accepted the book within months. (I went with Gay
Men's Press, the UK publisher.) As patriotic as I am, I no longer have
patience for the slow, deliberate ways of Canadian publishers.
I was convinced this book would sell quickly. Provincetown has only two
main streets--Bradford and Commercial--and I'd named my hero after one of
them. On a whim, I called Janice to ask if her boss's name had anything to
do with Bradford St. In fact, it did: Ned Bradford's great-great-something
grandfather had been on the Mayflower. I'd written a book about
Provincetown in the house of a descendant of one of the first Europeans to
land there. To me, that seemed a sure sign of success.
What I hadn't counted on, however, was my conservative and short-sighted
agent, who patronizingly said that, as I was a Canadian writer, my book
had to make the rounds of Canadian publishing houses. Then, if it sold
here and did reasonably well, in a few years she might send it south of
The thought of waiting another five years to be turned down again by every
short-sighted publisher in Canada sent me into a frenzy. This book was
hot: gay mysteries were selling like crazy in the US, if not at home. Its
time was now.
In 2001, I had sold a short story, “The Perfect Time To Be In Paris,” to
the Harrington Gay Men's Fiction Quarterly. I knew they also
published novels, and I chose them for the test drive for this book. I
sent the first 30 pages and a write-up of my intentions for a series based
in and around gay resorts.
I soon had a letter from Harrington saying they liked what I'd sent and
wanted to see the full manuscript. I wrote back to the editor, saying I
had just signed on with a new agent and he would have to deal with her,
but assuring him Harrington could have first offer.
I then told my agent I had an inside source at a US publisher who said
they were looking for a book exactly like mine. When she replied that she
would think about it, I nearly hit the roof. (It was only one of several
major collisions I would have with her before finally jettisoning myself
out her inept clutches.)
Harrington bought The P-town Murders in April 2005, a year after I
finished it. All went well until August, when Hurricane Katrina devastated
New Orleans. I knew my editor, Greg Herren, lived in New Orleans, and I
was prepared for the worst. I just assumed my manuscript had been
lost--small potatoes compared with the city's miseries--and at best, the
publishing schedule would be years behind.
To my great surprise and relief, Greg wrote to say my manuscript was safe
with him in another state. He'd taken it along with a few personal
possessions when he and his lover had fled the storm. As far as he knew,
Harrington's schedule would not change. I can't recall ever being so
grateful or astounded by an act of simple kindness.
The book was to be published in the summer of 2007. I made plans for an
inaugural reading at the Saints and Sinners Gay Lit Festival in a barely
recovering New Orleans. I was overjoyed to learn I would read alongside
Patricia Nell Warren, whose The Front Runner was the first gay commercial
bestseller, and one of the first gay books I'd read.
When I reached New Orleans, however, my book had not arrived. Not to be
put off, I read an excerpt alongside Warren, a memory that still thrills
me. I had a great time discovering that wonderful city, though admittedly
it was in a sorrowful state then, less than a year after Katrina. (Today
it's one of the few places I would live in the US.)
My copies of P'Town finally reached me back home, but the news was
dismal. At my request, Paul Bellini at Fab took it on to review, as
did a few Americans, but no one else. Worse--none of the larger Canadian
stores were willing to stock it. Thankfully, some of the independent
stores like Glad Day Books and This Ain't The Rosedale Library helped with
A fall tour met a similar fate. By the time I arrived for a reading at A
Different Light Books in West Hollywood, Harrington had announced plans to
cease publishing fiction. There were only a handful of copies left in
stock. Thankfully, a very kind manager at Harrington had the last copies
express delivered for me to take to Vancouver, where I read at Little
I threw a launch for myself at Slack's in Toronto, thinking it might well
be the end of the book and the series. After all that work, it seemed too
sad to be true. I was certainly rethinking my decision to be a
self-supporting writer, which seemed at that moment an impossible goal.
The irony didn't escape me: the book sold well everywhere it was stocked.
I contacted gay bookstores all over North America to ask if they would
purchase additional copies, if I could supply them. Most said yes. Spurred
by my determination to keep the book in print, my agent finally kicked
into gear and resold it to Cormorant Books.
Cormorant agreed to keep the book colourful, at my request, and turned out
a really fun cover. Apart from the amendment of a few American oddities
(e.g. a highway that doesn't go through a state is not an “interstate,”
but a “route”) the text is essentially the same. The classy new edition
was published in summer 2008, one year after the Harrington release.
Critics in Canada were a bit more receptive now that the book had a
Canadian publisher. Some got it, but not everyone understood I was aiming
to write something more than a clever mystery. It seems critics want you
to be literary or a mystery writer, but not both. I consider myself a
stylist first and a mystery writer second. Apparently, this gets in the
way of folks who read for story alone.
Reviewers with a sense of humour understand my seemingly frivolous
critiques on gay life, but sadly not all critics come equipped with a
funny bone. (I think it should be made mandatory before you're allowed to
write reviews, just as it should be mandatory to take a parenting skills
course before you're allowed to breed.)
In the meantime, I've kept writing. I received so much fan mail asking
about subsequent volumes (one fan even demanded I send an advance copy of
the second book, claiming he couldn't wait), I knew this was going
Cormorant released Death In Key West in the summer of 2009 to
uniformly strong acclaim and sales. Next up is Vanished In Vallarta,
in the summer of 2010. I've already finished a rough draft for Bon Ton
Roulez, fourth in the series, and fittingly set in post-Katrina New
After that, it's The Prophet of Palm Springs. Books six and seven,
as yet untitled, may be set in Toronto and San Francisco, though by then I
may have visited other gay resorts. If you live in one, why not invite me?