Monday, August 03, 2009

Cruising, by Gerald Walker

(pb; 1970)

From the inside flap:

"When homosexual 'cruise,' they are looking for kicks, love, relief, whatever. When cops cruise, they are looking for crime and criminals, but also for their own kicks, relief, whatever. . .

"The scene is New York City. The time is mainly night, when Stuart Richards, a graduate student at Columbia by day, prowls the parks and streets killing homosexuals. John Lynch is one of ten rookie cops ordered out on decoy duty to impersonate homosexuals in the hope of enticing the killer. Captain Edelson is the detective who orchestrates the chase. . ."


Grim, gutter-minded story and characters make this feel like an early Seventies Martin Scorsese film, except some of the characters are homosexual. Cruising chronicles three men's simultaneous, miasmic seasons in personal hells: Stuart Richards, the resentful, immature, responsibility-dodging serial killer who cannot stand to be laughed at; John Lynch, a "straight," decent, racially-aware New York rookie cop who's gone undercover -- as a gay man; and Captain Edelson, the "Jew captain" (as Lynch privately calls him), who's jaded and politically savvy, but honest and fair.

The secondary characters, many of them gay (and who express the homosexual outlook eloquently), are well-written, and come off as real people. Because we can't hear their thoughts (as we, the readers, do with Lynch and Richards), or read their private journals (as we do with Edelson) these secondary characters often come off as better, if socially embattled, people.

Good, unsettling read from a first-class author.

Check this out, if you don't mind letting your mind tramp around in moral murkiness for a bit. To quote the cover of the novel: "This is a tough book. If you cant' take it, don't read it."

A controversial film version of this novel was released stateside on February 8, 1980. Directed and scripted by William Friedkin, it starred Al Pacino as Steve Burns, a cinematic stand-in for John Lynch. Paul Sorvino played Captain Edelson. Richard Cox played Stuart Richards. Karen Allen played Nancy. Joe Spinell played Patrolman DiSimone. Ed O'Neill played Detective Schreiber (he was billed as "Edward O'Neil"). James Remar played Gregory. Powers Boothe played a helpful shop clerk (who tells Al Pacino's character what colored back-pocket hankies mean in the gay/BDSM subculture).

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