Friday, March 31st, 2023

An enjoyable mix of mystery and comedy

Pussy’s  Bow

by Neal Drinnan

Published by St. Martin’s Press

Published February 5, 2000
Fiction (foreign/comedy)
272 pgs. • Find on

Reviewed by Stephen O. Murray

August 21, 2003.

Whereas gay Australian writer Neal Drinnan’s Quill grabbed me and held me, Pussy’s Bow 1 did not immediately charm me—or seize me.

It is one of the books that I like more after having finished reading it than I liked while I was reading it, though it was sufficiently interesting to finish. At the start it seems to be a thriller with a fag bashing leading in unexpected ways to a corpse and its disposal. That unusual course of events leads to blackmail, but this seeming primary plot evaporates, though I guess one could say that it is resolved.

There is another mystery that emerges, one set in the Great Depression and involving the ruin of a Jewish developer, plus a rape and a robbery, a suicide, and a suicide attempt. Nevertheless, Pussy’s Bow is not a crime novel, and the primary mystery is that of the human heart (straight and gay). The focus is on the household occupying a large house with a turret, the turret from which the ruined developer hanged himself after his business was destroyed by the father of a WASP woman with whom he had been involved. (And, let me tell, you, “involved” is the right word!).

The mostly renovated art deco mansion, built in 1924, is owned by a promiscuous gay doctor who is to some degree in love with Dixon, a Cambridge plummy-accented Brit who writes for a Melbourne (Australia) real estate magazine. Dixon, who also has a busy sex life away from home, is attracted to the third resident, Duang, a recently successful Vietnamese painter. Duang is attracted to Dixon, but has love and sex less separated. Doc decides to hire a houseboy and chooses a handsome but naive (new-to-town) 19-year old who has changed his name from Shane Hutton to Murray Fox and is questioning what his sexual orientation is. In this he has plenty of in-house help. Plus, there is the neighbor (the one with a cat) with desires of her own, Claudette, and with connections (in particular a lesbian photographer) to help the hayseed launch a career as a model.

As the blackmail plot fades, Pussy’s Bow emerges as a “buddy” novel. In that there are major straight (and bisexual) characters, it is more like Armistead Maupin’s Barbary Lane tales of the city than like Ethan Mordden’s Buddies series. The later Tales of the City also included disposing of a corpse and disappointment in the selfishness of one of the residents. And parents visiting from the provinces (here the mother and sister of Shane/Murray). Also like Tales of the City, there is a lot of plot with many subplots and subsidiary characters.

The part of Mrs. Madrigal is split between Doc and Claudette. And there is a much bigger part for an Asian character. This is, in itself, notable, since gay Asians are invisible in gay Anglo fiction in the U.S. Duang and Shane/Murray are the two most fully developed characters in Pussy’s Bow (or is it that Doc and Dixon are more familiar types in gay male fiction? Maybe.) Drinnan convincingly sketches backgrounds for characters from an impressively wide range of backgrounds.

There is more graphic sex in Pussy’s Bow than in either Quills or in Maupin’s serial novels. There are also a lot of “party drugs” consumed (and some sold by Dixon).

The novel is an enjoyable page-turner, though I am more interested in Drinnan’s look at how having one’s character and “private life” being expropriated by a writer in Quill than the portrait of edging in and out of fashion and sexual “fast lanes” in Pussy’s Bow, but Drinnan peppers both books with epigrammatic insights and fallible but ultimately sympathetic characters (young and old, male and female, gay and straight, rural and urban).

This originally appeared on epinions, 21 August 2003
©2003, 2017, Stephe O. Murray


  1. In that the neighbor cat does not play any significant role in the book, I was puzzled by the title and asked an Australian friend about it. He said that “pussy’s bow” refers to where the bow is tied—just below the chin—and means “I’ve had it up to here” (with the flattened hand against the top of the throat throat). Necks are central to the book’s plot with one strangulation and two nooses. Margaret Thatcher frequently wore pussy bows, btw.

About The Author

Stephen O. Murray grew up in rural southern Minnesota, earned a B.A. from James Madison College (within Michigan State University), an M.A. from the University of Arizona, a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (both in sociology), and was a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley (in anthropology). He is the author of American Gay, Homosexualities, etc. and lives in San Francisco.