The sordid past keeps popping up to haunt them--all of the
Pharoah Love is the most annoying detective ever. Sure, he's an important figure on the detective fiction landscape--not just the first gay detective, but a gay African American detective. But my opinion of him has nothing to do with his sexual preferences. I don't care if he likes men or women or both or aliens from another planet or all of them in one grand orgy--why can't the man say one complete sentence with using "cat"??!! Everybody, absolutely everybody is a "cat"--"Seth cat," "detective cat," "murderer cat," strangler cat," "twin cats," "baby cat," and so on ad nauseum. Seriously--I'm a barely from the 60s girl (1969 model)--did people really talk this way? All. The. Time?
And, honestly, I don't see that he does much in the way of detecting here. Most of what he accomplishes is off-stage. He contacts his pals in various places for the low-down on various characters and that's about it. Seth does most of the "detecting" through virtue of his interviews for the book he's supposed to be writing.
Primarily what we have here is a great big, chaotic, campy mess. Lots of big spectacle--which I suppose is a nice send-up of the Busby-era musical spectaculars--but not much in the way of detective entertainment. We have Sweet Harriet (who's most definitely NOT, by the way and that's no spoiler--you know that from the moment you meet her)...anyway, as I was saying: We have Sweet Harriet tap dancing her way down the streets of New York and in and out of all kinds of places. We have out-of-date stars running around in out-of-date glamorous outfits demanding that everyone give them the recognition they're due. We have these luscious ladies of the cinema getting thoroughly hammered and screeching at each other in public places or trying to throttle Pharoah or yelling at the top of their lungs in their hotel rooms at people who aren't there. We have the mystery "child" with the annoying speech impediment (which serves no plot purpose that I can see...it's there purely for annoyance value). And, of course, we have Pharaoh (see paragraph above).
"Get them inside," the attorney pleaded with the policewomen. "It's turning into a three-ring circus."
If anyone has reached this point of the novel (next to last page) and hasn't already felt like they were in the middle of the third ring, then they haven't been paying sufficient attention. It's a three-ring circus that's missing its ring master. That's what it is.
Of course, there are those who disagree with me, so your mileage may vary. The book has an average rating of 3.86 stars on Goodreads and I found this bit in The Independent's obituary for George Baxt back in 2013:
[on A Queer Kind of Death] The book was instantly acclaimed. "I didn't know how outrageous that book was. It really shocked the pants off everyone," Baxt said. The second book featuring Pharoah Love, Swing Low, Sweet Harriet (1967), was considered even better, with Busby Berkeley musicals among the targets of the author's satire.
Personally, I give it ★ and a half--rounded to 2 stars on Goodreads. The very best part of this book from my point of view? The cover with art by Nicky Zann--it was one of the primary reasons I picked this book up at the Red Cross Book Fair last year.