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Because of a feature article on him in the Advocate, Albany based Donald Strachey has gained some notoriety as a gay private detective. His latest client, Paul Hale, a scared young man, provides Donald with a $5,000 retainer to find "someone", that person unspecified before Paul is scared off. Soon thereafter, Paul is found dead. The official cause of death is deemed suicide by the coroner's office, but Donald wants to do right by Paul by finding who killed him as the police unofficially believe he was murdered. Another person who believes Paul was murdered is his mother, Phyllis Hale. Donald learns that homophobic Mrs. Hale sent Paul to the Phoenix Foundation, run by Dr. Trevor Cornell and his wife Lynn Cornell and for which Paul was the poster child. The Foundation's raison d'etre is repairative therapy i.e. to help people turn from gay to straight. Donald believes Paul's death has something to do with the Foundation, whether it be a connection to one of the Cornells or one of the ... Written by
Shock To The System begins on a dark night with Chad Allen as openly gay private eye Donald Strachey meeting Jared Keeso who wants him to find somebody. No sooner does he hand Allen a $5000.00 retainer check than someone tries to run him down with a car. The next day he's found dead of a pill and liquor combination and the coroner calls it suicide.
To even the dumbest cops you'll find in any detective story you don't hire a PI for a job and then kill yourself. But the Albany cops don't want to go any farther, but Allen has the scent. Young Keeso was the poster boy for an Ex-Gay therapy group the Phoenix Foundation headed by Michael Woods and his wife Anne Marie DeLuise. That seems the place to start though Keeso's mother Morgan Fairchild tells Allen that it was some gay seeking vengeance on her son for betraying the movement.
In a move that requires real acting on his part, out and proud detective Chad Allen goes undercover in the foundation claiming to be a troubled gay man seeking a cure from the curse of homosexuality. Some of these scenes and later some scenes of self examination and introspection on his own life with partner Sebastian Spence show some really moving acting by Chad Allen.
Shock To The System throws us a ton of red herrings as suspects and believe me you will never figure out the real motive for this and another homicide of one of the patients. That being said you won't figure out who the killer is. I didn't until about 30 seconds before it was revealed.
Chad Allen has made four Strachey stories and hopefully will do more. Having the series shot in Canada I have to say that British Columbia doesn't look anything like Albany, New York so that's a bit of let down in the sense I'm familiar with Albany. But there is a more fundamental difference between these stories and most pulp detective work.
Be it Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer or any of a thousand lesser imitations your basic straight detective is a love them and leave them type with a new dame in every story. But the Donald Strachey stories emphasize that Strachey is a domestic type who has settled down with the love of his life who works for a State Senator in Albany. The two are very much in love and the films and books show that at every opportunity.
The books were written and the films made at a time when LGBT folks are pushing for marriage rights and in 2006 when this film was made we didn't have them in New York. It's interesting to speculate that the idea for a gay private eye originated 20 year previously or if such stories are written 20 years in the future when marriage is secured whether a pulp hero like Donald Strachey will be your typical detective loner dealing with a bar crowd and loving and leaving a succession of young party boys.
And I would not dare speculate on what lesbian detective fiction might be like if someone is inspired to write a series of those stories.
But at this point in time Donald Strachey is a hero of those times and hopefully we'll see more of him in future work.
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