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Boystown 3: Two Nick Nowak Novellas
by Sally Parsons

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By Marshall Thornton, $5.99; Torquere Press; 192 pages

If you're new to this series, as I am, grab Boystown and Boystown 2 right away for a complete collection. You'll become addicted to the main character Nick Nowak and hungrily wait for more adventures to come.

Nowak is a gay gumshoe ( and former Chicago cop ) . His escapades are even more appealing as: 1 ) they take place in Chicago, and 2 ) they take place in Chicago of the 1980s ( when the author resided here ) . This allows for fun references like Nowak's musing over "… the new microcomputers available for home use—though what you'd do with a computer at home was a mystery to me since most people didn't put out a payroll."

Nowak is conflicted in his personal life on whether to commit. At the start of Boystown 3, he is still entangled with an old flame while his current one recuperates in his garden apartment from a bout of "weird pneumonia." Add Nowak's many casual sexual encounters to the mix, and, well, it's the '80s.

Little Boy Boom, the first novella in Boystown 3, finds Nowak searching for someone trying to kill him after his Plymouth Duster is blown up on Roscoe near his apartment. Nowak builds lists of possible suspects, chases down leads and tromps ( and tramps ) the Chicago landscape, introducing us to a bunch of characters along the way. In the end, things aren't quite as they first appeared when the car exploded. However, as Nowak would say, life can be like that.

Little Boy Tenor, the second novella in this compilation, is less gritty—a sweeter tale. Here Nowak is forced to deal with his feelings for Harker, the police detective boyfriend who is still recuperating on Nowak's sofa. Has Nowak taken on too much this time? He seeks the murderer of the star tenor of a church choir at the pastor's pleading, while simultaneously searching for the reason behind the death of a friend's lover.

Thornton's writing style crackles with crisp, vivid imagery and sass. The stories and characters are complex and colorful enough to hold your interest and the sex is graphic and frequent. ( This, remember, is during the years when AIDS was known as GRID. )

Factoid of interest about the author found on his publisher's blog: Thornton once worked briefly as "a sort of gossip columnist" for the Chicago Sun-Times, roaming society parties for tidbits. He claims he was terrible at it.

Thornton is currently working on his next Nick Nowak mystery. Those readers who long for a fuller adventure than the novella format provides will be pleased to know the fourth book in the series, half completed, is to be a full-length novel. Also, notes for a fifth Nowak mystery are already accumulating. It looks like Nowak will be with us for awhile.

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