Those who read Mark Spano’s Midland Club (Thunderfoot Press) will immediately be transported to a different world. No , this book is not fantasy or science fiction, but instead, a murder mystery—with a twist. Sicilian-American Spano , has re-created a world when to be homosexual was a scourge, practically validating open-season on those outside of what was considered the (sexual) norm. Spano’s characters are expertly drawn with subtlety —-he leaves out cartoonish or stereotypical characterizations which would simply demean and weaken the story. We care about Rich St. Pierre, the outcast in his well-known and respectable family, in part, because he possesses a keen intelligence —and has a conscience.
St. Pierre is determined, at the risk of his own safety, to get to the bottom of the truth about the death of Puce Bordeaux, a loyal and hardworking waiter at the Midland Club. St. Pierre is not buying the pronouncement of Bordeaux’s death as suicide for a few very particular reasons: the man was a “Negro” and a homosexual, and a Catholic, as evidenced by the rosary beads entwined in Bordeaux’s hands that does not escape St. Pierre’s notice, and somewhat shocks him nonetheless. This is clearly an unusual situation signaling a definite triple -jeopardy in the 1950’s.
When Bordeaux’s priest, Monsignor Corliss is found dead, St. Pierre risks his own life to uncover the secrets the town has been covering up, in one way or another, for a long time. That St. Pierre has been shunned by his own family for his so called “degenerate” lifestyle, makes the task he sets himself somewhat easier since he feels as though he owes little to anyone , save the discover of truth itself:
As I watch my neighbors’ doors and windows before they resume their restless movements through this city, I know in small way I am free in my living here. I am an outsider and I survived unjudged by the rules on either side of this divided city.
While this is a slim volume (120 pp) , it is a powerful story that even transcends the revelation of the murder mysteries in the end. It is a an evocative portrait of a place and time in which the basic rights of men (and women) to live freely and to follow their own desires was repressed by shame, intimidation, violence, outcast status and the withdrawal of love and support from family members. And, in the case of the story Spano tells us in the Midland Club, many paid the ultimate price for just living their lives with the truth that, ultimately, could not be repressed.
The Midland Club is a superb little gem. Read it and feel transported to the world of dark wood, cognac and the ultimate boys’ club. Be transformed by the truth it seeks to expose about a dark time in our country’s history and the many that paid the ultimate price for simply being who they needed to be. St. Pierre sums it up thus:
So, I continue, here, in this town somewhere between the pain of remembering and the carelessness of forgetting.