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by Sharon Gilligan
Rising Tide Press, 1993
Review by Su Terry on Jun 26th 2002

Danger in High Places

Danger in High Places: An Alix Nicholson Mystery by Sharon Gilligan is the first in this series about a lesbian photographer and amateur detective. This one finds our heroine in the high stake world of Washington politics where reelection at any cost is the name of the game and everyone wears a frozen smile.

Danger in High Places is set in the politically charged world of Washington, DC. Alix Nicholson is a professional photographer and author of photographic social essay books. She has come to the Nation’s Capital to photograph the people and events surrounding the displaying of the AIDS Quilt. The displaying of the Quilt is part of a campaign by AIDS activists to gain additional funds for HIV/AIDS research. During the reading of AIDS victims’ names, a woman gains access to the microphone and decries the insufficient funding of research for breast cancer. She is dragged off the stage kicking and screaming and the litany resumes. Alix seeks out the female protester and learns that Sandra is a former nurse who used to work with female cancer patients before she lost her job due to her furor for her cause. Broke and with no hopes of finding another position in her chosen profession, she has come to Washington to self-immolate herself in a final desperate act of protest. Alix is deeply moved by Sandra’s story and offers the penniless woman food and shelter. After a night of emotionally wrenching love making, Alix awakes to find Sandra gone. Desperate to prevent Sandra from completing her mission, Alix infiltrates the “All-out AIDS Alliance” (3A’s Out) in the guise of an independent news reporter in an attempt to gain entrance into the events surrounding the Congressional debate and late night fundraising activities. Finally, having found Sandra outside the fundraiser hotel, Alix confronts her and Sandra relents, but less than an hour later, Sandra’s broken body is found at the base of the hotel, an apparent suicide. Alix’s heart is as broken as Sandra’s body over Sandra’s meaningless death and verbal betrayal. When Alix is pushed down a steep escalator in the DC Metro, she becomes convinced that Sandra had not changed her mind about committing suicide. As Alix digs deeper into the mystery of Sandra’s death, she discovers that no one is quite who they pretend to be. With all the masks and lies, who can Alix trust?

The plot and characters in this novel are well drawn. The character of Alix is very complex and portrayed with a full range of intense emotions. She is grappling with her grief over the deaths of Sandra and Brian, her former darkroom assistant, who died of AIDS. (It is out of solidarity for his illness, that she came to the quilt display in the first place.) Her physically injuries sustained throughout much of the novel, are symbolic of her emotions wounds. Darlene “Mac” MacDowell and her boss, Representative Hallie Shepard, are interesting as they walk the straight and narrow as “silent lesbians” who dare not “come out” in a world where to do so would be political and professional suicide. In contrast are the organizers of the Alliance, the physically weak AIDS ridden, Hector Ortiz and his boss, the tough fighter, Rico Rivers, who see “being out” as the best means to power and money. Also of interest is Police Sergeant Littlejohn, the former lover of Mac, who is still infatuated by her and still confused why she dumped him. Finally, I cannot help but comment on the usage of Washington sites. The Hilton Hotel and other establishments along Connecticut Avenue NW do exist, as does the DuPont Circle Metro Station, and doggone it if I did not fear falling every time I rode that long, deep escalator into the bowels of Washington. This book really brought back memories!

Sharon Gilligan is the author of two Alix Nicholson mysteries Danger in High Places (1993) and Danger! Cross Currents (1994). She has one previous novel, Faces of Love (1992). Gilligan is a member of Women of Mendocino Bay (WOMB) and is working to produce a newsletter entitled, WOMB with a View. Gilligan currently lives with her partner in Northern California, the setting for and Danger! Cross Currents.

Danger in High Places: An Alix Nicholson Mystery by Sharon Gilligan is a better than average entry into the lesbian mystery genre. The characters and setting are very realistic. The suspense holds steady throughout the book.  I would recommend it.

 

© 2002 Su Terry

Su Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental Health: She is interested in the interplay between psychology, biology, and mysticism. Her current area of research is in the impact of hormonal fluctuation in female Christian mystics.