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Positive portrayals?

Mystery master John Morgan Wilson sends his HIV-positive detective after a ring of gay pederasts

Benjamin Justice is HIV-positive, but that's almost the least of his problems. He tested positive a year ago but has yet to seek treatment. His lover, Jacques, has been dead for more than a decade; his journalism career--destroyed when it was discovered he'd invented details in a Pulitzer Prizewinning article--is still in ruins; and he's hitting the bottle again. Then, on the day Charlotte Preston hires him to ghostwrite a biography of her late movie-star father, she's found dead.

In his fourth mystery novel, The Limits of Justice, author John Morgan Wilson seems to have painted his reluctant detective into an especially grim corner.

Sitting in his own West Hollywood, Calif., home, Wilson admits he's been tough on his hero. "A kid came up to me at one of my readings," he recalls, "and said, `Is Justice ever going to get a break?'" When he embarked on the books--his first, 1996's Simple Justice, won the Edgar Allan Poe Award; the third, Justice at Risk, earned a Lambda Literary Award--Wilson explains, "I envisioned them to be lighter, fast-paced, fun. I figured I'd have to mention AIDS, but I didn't want to dwell on it. But as I found the voice of the character, it just got darker and darker. All this stuff came out of me that carried over from the '80s--my first lover died from AIDS in 1987--and I couldn't avoid it."

Justice may well be the first mystery detective, gay or straight, who's infected. But before he can confront that fact, he must first unravel a labyrinthine mystery that leads to a ring of high-powered gay pederasts. "There's a horror in that kind of exploitation and abuse of kids. Gay teenagers have a right to their sexuality, and they need to have it validated--that's a primary issue in the first book. In this one I'm trying to delineate between teenagers and children.

"I'm not saying an older man should never look at a younger man." Wilson, 55, met his companion, Pietro Gamino, when Gamino was 19, and they've been together eight years: "I have no shame about that. We have a good life together."

Justice's own future is less certain--Wilson has completed his Doubleday contract, but he has outlined three more installments in which Justice does find love, a family, and some happiness. "If there is a fifth book," promises Wilson, "Justice finally gets his life on track."

Read more of The Advocate's conversation with John Morgan Wilson on
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Author:Kilday, Gregg
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Nov 7, 2000
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