Derek Farrell’s fourth Danny Bird mystery, Death of an Angel, for Fahrenheit Press is coming out very soon, early word from those lucky enough to have read it is as positive as ever – phrases like “the best Danny Bird mystery yet” are being bandied about, I can’t wait. It will be a highlight of my reading year. I will most definitely be posting a review when I have gotten my hands on a copy. Which got me to thinking about the first three books again, and if I should go back and review them individually in the build up to Angel. Which in turn got me thinking about some of the deeper importance of these books, what they say about representation in the world of publishing and the indie world especially.
I’m gay. I came out at 28. I didn’t have any doubts about my sexuality, yet I didn’t feel comfortable facing it and I spent a lot of time either denying it or just plain old ignoring it. I have no intention of making this a coming out story, but I will say that I have always been a reader and that if stories that better represented me had been more readily available and not just in the cult following late night TV slots, I might have taken a different path. Just for clarity, I couldn’t be happier now. I have been with my partner nearly seven years and we are getting married next November, everything happens for a reason and I wouldn’t go back and change my own life history, it informs who I am. I do feel though that widening representation in all channels of the media can only be a good thing, and if it helps even one person feel more comfortable with themselves than I did in my 20’s, then it’s a battle worth fighting. There are loads of great books and characters out there that show the diversity of our society, both in fiction and in non-fiction, Danny Bird is one such example.
Danny is a gay man; he runs a gay pub in London. He is smart, loyal and determined. He is tough and knows his own mind, he has a very real sense of justice and is willing to take action. He also has a nasty habit of finding himself in bizarre situations, whether that be a dead diva on his pubs opening night or finding a body that’s been bricked up in his cellar, possibly by the gangster that owns his pub! He gets sucked into mysteries, trying to work out what the actual fuck is going on where the police seem uninterested in looking beyond the obvious conclusions. Danny is surrounded by a cast of wonderful supporting characters from Caz his landed gentry best friend, to the ASBO twins via Ali his ever present, efficient and extremely sarcastic bar manager.
The Marquees of Queensberry pub, or The Marq as its more commonly known, is everything anyone who has spent time drinking in a gay village in the UK will recognize. My personal frame of reference is Manchester rather than Derek’s London but that doesn’t make the scenes there any less relatable. From the ASBO twins tip seeking outfits to the raucous weekend crowds, it’s a familiar scene. The Marq is also a character in its own right in many ways. Each story revolves around events there, and as the series progresses we are starting to get a sense of the pubs checkered history, particularly in the third installment which opens with a skeleton in the basement. Literally.
Derek has built a world up around these characters, despite some improvements in representation in traditional publishing it remains a world that would not have seen the light of day with such a publisher. We know this, cos he tried. In Derek’s own words:
“A mainstream agent advised I ‘tone down the camp and rewrite from the woman’s (Caz) POV””
A re-write such as this would have fundamentally changed the books. Relegating Danny, the gay character, to comic relief and placing the rich straight woman at the centre of attention. Whilst this would be more saleable for a traditional publisher, its indicative of wider issues of representation. Look at the controversy this week over Jack Whitehall’s casting as a gay man in a Disney film. A straight guy playing a stereotypical caricature of a gay guy. In short he’s been cast as what the studio would consider a ‘safe’ gay character. That’s not progress, or positive representation. It’s conforming to a stereotype for a cheap laugh, this isn’t the 90s anymore and I have my doubts about this being a well rounded camp character such as Jack in Will and Grace. I digress, casting Caz as the lead isn’t necessarily the making of a bad book, it’s simply not what Derek was trying to achieve.
“Danny is the boy who sees how broken the world is and tries to fix it. That’s what drives him. Caz has seen the destruction and been nearly done in by it. Danny’s spirit – his light – is what binds her to him. She needs the proof that there is good in the world and they compliment each other. A Caz book would have, I fear, less hope.”
Publishing through an open minded and diverse indie press such as Fahrenheit gives the Danny stories the freedom they need to be themselves, to use the references from his world and for the characters to evolve naturally. There is also then the freedom to explore relationships that wouldn’t be palatable to a traditional publisher and in the case of Death of a Nobody and Death of a Devil really push you to think about why love of any kind should be considered taboo in society. Whether that be a 20+ year age difference which causes two consenting adults to hide themselves or a straight cis man falling for a trans woman. The second of these is played as an old fashioned and really rather sweet burgeoning romance in Death of a Devil and I do hope that both the characters are back in future books, I would love to know how they are getting on. We also see the ugly side of being trans in this country at the moment, the hate that is meted out for no discernable reason and in the case of this person their refusal to be cowed by it or forced out of their home. It’s a positive message of human spirit, with a relatable realness about it.
At their heart, the Danny books are excellently written, compelling mystery novels cut through with a mix of humour and personal drama. Which is why they are able to appeal to a wider audience and are considered as classics amongst the Fahrenheit cannon. Although set in the LGBT world, the situations Danny finds himself in are familiar to many. His relationships, his past partner coming back to haunt him, attempting to navigate a new job and a new love interest without falling flat on your face. All familiar to many people and make Danny a character that you can find something of yourself in, no matter how you identify.
Death of a Diva was the first Fahrenheit book to receive a hardback collectors’ edition release, financially this wouldn’t be possible unless there was a degree of certainty that the full press run would sell. This is evidence that a series with a gay lead set in the LGBT community can be a financial success, it took an indie publisher to prove it. Indie publishing is important for exactly this reason. Fahrenheit’s founder and grand master Chris McVeigh took a chance on the world being a more open place than traditional publishing seems to think, and its paid off to the benefit of us all. Death of an Angel is on its way into the world and I hope we have many more Danny Bird mysteries to come.
I’ll close with my standard plea, this sort of progress in the publishing world is only being made possible through indie presses such as Fahrenheit. They aren’t charities and they rely solely on being able to sell books (and merch in Fahrenheit’s case). I make a point of not accepting any freebies for this blog as my way of financially supporting the books, presses and authors I want to read. I encourage everyone to throw whatever they can afford behind the stories they want to be able to read. You won’t know what you’ve got till its gone.
The Danny Bird novels are all available to buy from Fahrenheit directly: