"Trevor Cornell is one of the most successful reparative therapy providers in New York," says Timmy Callahan in Shock to the System.
"I wonder what his idea of 'successful' is," says Donald Strachey, a private eye.
"Dressing badly," says Callahan, "decorating your home with duck decoys, breaking out in a rash whenever Barbra Streisand sings."
To explain: Reparative therapy means conversion from being gay or lesbian into happy, contented heteros. Timmy Callahan (Sebastian Spence) is a political type in Albany, New York. Donald Strachey (Chad Allen) is not only a capable and tough private eye in Albany, he and Timmy are married. "At least," as Strachey says, "as close as two men can get to it...more important, I'm in love with him." Those who find a gay agenda in everything from Peter Pan to The Brothers Karamazov may not like this movie. On the other hand, those with a fondness for well-constructed mysteries that feature politics, victimization, murder, martinis and phenalzine should enjoy the story, the style of Donald Strachey and the puzzle. Bet you don't guess the murderer.
It's worth pointing out that you don't need to be a collie to enjoy "Lassie" or be a guy with a gut to enjoy John Wayne. And you don't need to be gay to enjoy Shock to the System. The movie has it's faults...it was made for cable with awkward acting in some of the secondary roles and it has that clean, careful look of many made-for-TV films. But the mystery is satisfyingly complicated, with a nice number of red herrings. Chad Allen makes a believable, interesting private eye. His happy home life with Timmy would probably be the envy of many married couples, gay or straight.
Paul Hale, a frightened 20-year-old man, wants Strachey to help him. But before he can tell Strachey what he wants, he is found dead. At first it's thought Hale died of a stroke, but when a lethal mixture of alcohol and barbiturates is found in Hale's system, Strachey decides to find out what was going on. And that takes him undercover to the Phoenix Foundation, a successful institution led by Dr. Trevor Cornell and his wife, where gays and lesbians, Dr. Cornell says, can find their true path to heterosexuality. It turns out that Hale was going to be a poster boy for the Foundation when Cornell announced a major push to go nation-wide with his cures. Not only does Strachey find himself taking part in group therapy and flashing back to his own earlier life, he gets threatened, beaten up, chased and shot.
Almost as frightening, he encounter's Hale's wealthy, well-groomed and surgically-enhanced mother. "My son was not gay!" she says. "He was...confused."
Donald Strachey is the gay private eye in the mystery series written by Richard Stevenson, beginning with Death Trick in 1981. They are first-rate reads with clever, involved and sometimes violent plots. In other words, they aren't gay mysteries...they're mysteries that happen to feature a gay private eye.
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About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer (Charley2)
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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