I have been willing to go to Cape Cod for sometime now. Instead I opened Jon Loomis' first novel, High Season (St Martin's Press, 2007). Loomis is a poet. It's fairly visible: he knows how to write. He published two volumes of poetry, before embarking in what might become a series of mystery novels. High Season is presented as "A Frank Coffin Mystery". The book came out last fall.
Frank Coffin is a former Baltimore homicide detective who had to quit because of a nervous breakdown. He returns to Provincetown, MA, where he grew up, to become a regular cop, mainly issuing parking tickets and investigating bicycle thefts. Then a famous vacationing TV evangelist is found dead, cross-dressed, on a beach. It is the starting point of an investigation which will transform Coffin.
Although it is well written, at times very funny (as when a young straight cop dressed in drag-queen goes out in order to get information...), the novel ends up being boring. Coffin, a straight man in his forties, is a frightened man, difficult to identify with. He lacks some depth. In fact, as Loomis, through Coffin's shrink, writes, "everybody's got three lives. A public life, which is how you present yourself to the world; a private life, which is what your family knows about you; and a secret life - the stuff only you know about you." "Do you have a secret life?" asks Lola, Coffin's great lesbian police partner. "I'd be a lot more interesting if I did", admits Coffin. He is right...
Most of the other characters in the novel are grotesque losers, specially the gay characters...
At least I thought we would learn something about transvestites or cross-dressers: "Drag queens he could understand, sort of; there was something tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing, all that glitter and flash, a kind of burlesque-on/homage-to the whole idea of glamour in all its blowzy, tittering goofiness. The straight cross-dressers were harder to figure out - the just plain transvestite everyone in town called tall ships. The tall ships tended to be large men who strode up and down Commercial Street in plus-sized tweed skirts, support hose, and pumpkin-colored lipstick; craggy-faced and lonely-looking men with dispirited wigs and five o'clock shadows poking through pancake makeup. Sometimes they had their wives, even their kids in tow. They reminded Coffin of his Aunt Connie after she'd been through several rounds of chemotherapy."
The whole story takes place in Provincetown, and the city, on the verge of losing its soul, is one of the main characters. One night Coffin pays a visit to his old friend Kotowski who lives in the last property on Commercial Street's west end, "a hulking, dilapidated thing, perched precariously above the beach." They have been seeing each other every week for the past ten years, "ostensibly for a game of chess, which neither of them played very well or liked very much." When Coffin gets out of his old car, "the moon was rising nacreous and fat above the harbor; a bright path of reflected moonlight wrinkled from the beach to the bay's black horizon." The moon is often present in the many night scenes of the novel and is always described in a very personal way. Kotowski asks Coffin, while they play, "Ever been to Nantucket?" And continues: "Nantucket was abominable. Stepford meets the Disney version of Moby-Dick. The whole island is perfect and clean and cute. Nobody lives there but rich, glossy white people - self-congratulating lawyers and their lubricious trophy wives, completely zombified on antidepressants. Nothing but suntanned morons wearing Rolex watches, as far as the eye can see. Even the dogs look smug. There is no Nantucket anymore. It's all been torn down and replaced with gigantic McMansions. You can't buy a sandwich there for less than twelve bucks. That's Provincetown in a year or two. Except the lawyers and the trophy wives will all be queer." Kotowski is not gay, as he points out, he is "homosexual. To be gay is to be frivolously happy, which I am most definitively not."
Jon Loomis was twice a Writing Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He lives with his wife and son in west-central Wisconsin.
I definitively want to go to Cape Cod. The next "Frank Coffin Mystery" might be a good travel companion...
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