Blackmail, My Love won a Lambda Literary Award!
And it’s an Indiefab Book of the Year Gold Winner!
“Vivid and dark” Louise Barros
“A gripping tale of murder, corruption and bittersweet revenge — at the same time a compelling look at a moment in queer history when an oppressed and fearful minority began to discover its secret wellsprings of courage and resolve. ” Paul Russell
Blackmail, My Love is an illustrated noir mystery set in San Francisco in the Dark Ages of Queerdom: 1951. Josie O’Conner searches for her brother, a private dick who disappeared while investigating a blackmail ring targeting lesbians and gay men. Josie adopts Jimmy’s trousers and wingtips as well as his investigation, battling to clear his name, halt the blackmailers, and exact justice for the mounting number of Queer corpses. Along the way she rubs shoulders with a sultry chanteuse running a dyke tavern called Pandora’s Box; gets intimate with a red-headed madame operating a brothel from the Police Personnel Department; and conspires with the star of Finocchio’s, a dive so disreputable it’s off limits to servicemen – so every man in uniform pays a visit.
Blackmail, My Love is published by Cleis Press and available now at
Katie Gilmartin dug deeply into the annals of San Francisco’s storied past to produce Blackmail, My Love, a brilliantly conceived and artfully illustrated murder mystery that serves as a revelatory secret history of San Francisco’s Queer underground of the 1950s. The plot is fueled by a 1951 California Supreme Court ruling that homosexuals had a right to congregate, a decision that stopped police raids but created backlash in the form of surveillance, entrapment and more police brutality. Set in such legendary locations as the Black Cat Cafe, the Fillmore district during its heyday as jazz capital of the West, the Beat movement’s North Beach, and the sexually complex Tenderloin, Blackmail, My Love is a neo-noir novel that distills history and fiction into a singular, visually stunning experience.
“I love that Gilmartin writes with a smooth, tough-girl smokiness–she sets the noir tone she establishes in the opening lines and never falters throughout. I love that Gilmartin gets it right–the mise-en-scène, the history, the lesbians and gay men and drag queens and bisexuals and, of course, the villains–the people who put us in those closets and hidden bars and speak-easy-style clubs and forced us into the underground demimonde most LGBT people inhabited until well past Stonewall…. Blackmail, My Love blends the best of historical fiction with the best of mystery. Gilmartin’s debut bridges genre even as it transcends genre. It is a book to read for the page-turning mystery, but to savor for the nuance and detail and heart-breaking reality of what it was to be a lesbian or a gay man or a drag queen in 1951 in what has always been America’s gayest city…”
—Victoria Brownworth, in Lambda Literary
“This is the Katie Gilmartin’s first work of fiction, and she clearly drew on her academic work: interviews she conducted with lesbians about their lives in the 1940s and 1950s. That work paid off. Her future in fiction is bright.”
—New York Journal of Books
“Katie Gilmartin’s auspicious debut offers keen and diverse pleasures. A gripping tale of murder, corruption and bittersweet revenge, hauntingly punctuated by the author’s evocative illustrations, Blackmail, My Love is at the same time a compelling look at a moment in queer history when an oppressed and fearful minority began to discover its secret wellsprings of courage and resolve. I cherish this novel as much for its recovery of our neglected history as for its sharply drawn characters and deftly orchestrated plot.”
—Paul Russell, author of Immaculate Blue and The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov
“This intriguing noir novel captures a cultural moment, set in 1950s San Francisco at a time when gays and lesbians established a strong sense of community, despite being harassed and often arrested by law enforcement simply for congregating. Blackmail, My Love will entertain fans of the noir genre, but its social themes and messages about love and redemption will also appeal to a wider audience.”
“Historian and practicing artist Katie Gilmartin has outdone herself with Blackmail, My Love. This gripping and beautifully-written detective novel is actually a well-researched piece of historical fiction, illuminating San Francisco’s post-World War II era, when bars were the primary mode of queer socializing and police raids really did ruin people’s lives. Gilmartin has an eye for detail—as detectives and historians must—and she sets her story at a time in San Francisco’s history when queer communities, often segregated by race and class, matured into new modes of political consolidation and resistance. Taking seriously the idea that queer social movements emerged out of bars rather than formal homophile organizations, Gilmartin’s novel charts the lives of a cast of characters (some right out of history) who work together to trap the entrappers. As a bonus, Gilmartin supplements the text with illustrative prints that enliven her already vivid prose.Blackmail, My Love is a must-read for anyone who enjoys queer history!”
—Nan Alamilla Boyd, author of Wide Open-Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965 and Professor of Women and Gender Studies at SFSU
“Although it is a dark tale of a harrowing time—the queer world in San Francisco in the early 1950’s—the narrative voice inBlackmail, My Love is fresh, keenly observant and even charming. I highly recommend Katie Gilmartin’s wonderful debut novel and I am eager to see what she does next.”
—Michael Nava, author of the Henry Rios mysteries
“Gilmartin’s magisterial command of her historical period ensures that the reader will be effortlessly immersed in the instant paranoia, mistrust and betrayal so typical of that pre-liberated gay era. A darkly entertaining mystery, Blackmail, My Love also grounds us in why the Stonewall Revolution would shortly afterward happen—as well as why it had to happen.”
—Felice Picano, editor of Best Gay Romance 2015
“Nancy Drew meets Leslie Feinberg.”
—Animal Prufrock, of lesbian punk band Bitch and Animal
“Katie Gilmartin’s Blackmail, My Love has everything you’d hope for in a noir thriller: a troubled private eye with an urgent, personal mission, glamorous dames and drag queens, brutal cops on the take, lush prose, and gorgeous period details, from slang to stocking seams to the perfectly-rendered atmosphere of menace that surrounded anyone whose loves-or wardrobe-raised an eyebrow and risked arrest. Don’t miss this fresh, exciting, and sophisticated new voice in fiction.”
–Regina Marler, author of Queer Beats
“Have you ever felt the ghosts that swirl down San Francisco’s Tenderloin streets and North Beach alleys? You’ll meet them face to face in Katie Gilmartin’s noir trip down a very queer stretch of Memory Lane, to a Frisco of corrupt blackmailers, rough cops, intrepid homos and pre-Stonewall constraint, connection and possibility. Complete with guns, fedoras, bribes, José Sarria at the Black Cat, chest bindings, Coit Tower, retired showgirls from the Forbidden City, and a bruise shaped like St. Francis–Katie dives so deep (and convincingly) into the still-somehow-familiar details of the City’s hidden past that you’ll feel like you’ve time-traveled. That’s how you know you’ve had a history lesson that’s tough and precious as a 50’s femme.”
–Carol Queen, author of The Leather Daddy and the Femme
“A hardboiled homage and detailed, nostalgic romp through post-WWII San Francisco, Blackmail, My Love reveals and revels in the City of 1951 through a GLBT lens, and the history is spot-on.”
—Kelli Stanley, award-winning author of City of Dragons
“Blackmail, My Love is a throaty noir mystery with enough heat to set a coffee-soused Beat poet aflame—but it’s also a novel about tenacity and community and the forces that hold us together when the world really does conspire to tear us apart. The writing is rich in style and soul, and surprises by insisting on laughter as a source of redemption.”
—Alex Algren, author of Soaking Wet: Lesbian Fiction