The Company of Knaves by Simon Shaw

St. Martin’s (first), 1998

English actor Philip Fletcher is furious when his thespian archrival is nominated for a knighthood. But the death of an actor friend of Philip’s opens up an avenue to knighthood when an unknown man blackmails the dead actor’s son, a promising young politician, by threatening to turn his father’s diary over to a tabloid newspaper. The son knows that his father’s private life was anything but quiet and appeals to Philip for help. The job involves more than the usual undercover work: although he does not care about his friends’ sexual proclivities, Philip, who is straight, must infiltrate a gay S&M nightclub in search of the diary. The result is Shaw at his best: it has biting humor, sarcasm, spine-tingles in all the right places and a literally incendiary comeuppance for the bad guy. Shaw’s somewhat acerbic attitude towards the drag queen characters is tempered by Philip’s spot-on reaction when, having visited the nightclub disguised as a woman, he must take a taxi home: “As…he caught the driver’s eye, he felt suddenly uncovered. The casual appraising look, such as he had given countless times to women strangers, turned in a flash from moderate interest to cold disdain. Philip sensed that he was tempted just to drive off and refuse the fare. The second he closed the door behind him the cab moved off abruptly, throwing him off-balance into the seat. The driver raised a hand and casually flipped the glass partition shut. Philip felt humiliated.” (Helen M Francini)

Originally published in Issue # 152 – January/February 1998

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