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Works by
Michael Craft

Claire Gray Mysteries (A theatrical director in Palm Springs, California.)
  1. Rehearsing (1993)
    Claire Gray is fifty and single, one of Broadway’s most respected directors. On a year’s retreat from her career, she returns to her alma mater as a visiting professor, determined to write a “significant” play. Enter George McBeth, a gay local actor ten years her junior, who dreams of making it big. Each seduces and openly uses the other as a means to private ends, setting the stage for rude awakenings. Laced with an abundance of wit, sensuality, and suspense, Rehearsing will have lasting appeal to thoughtful readers, gay or straight.

  2. Desert Autumn (2001)
    Desert Autumn is the first in a new series by Michael Craft, author of the popular “Mark Manning” gay murder mysteries. This new series features as its central character a renowned theatrical director, Claire Gray, an unmarried (heterosexual) woman of 54. As Desert Autumn opens, we learn that Claire has accepted a lucrative offer to leave New York and move to southern California, where she will join the faculty of the newly established Desert Arts College, founded by D. Glenn Yeats, a computer-software tycoon.

    Shortly after Claire’s arrival, she offers to pick up a fellow faculty member at the Palm Springs airport. Driving him home that morning, Claire enters the house with him, and together they discover the lifeless body of his wife. The police are summoned, and we meet the Riverside County sheriff’s detective in charge of the investigation, Larry Knoll, brother of Claire’s gay neighbor, Grant. Detective Knoll quickly determines that Claire’s lifelong theatrical career has endowed her with a unique perspective on the crime that enables her to make insightful contributions to the case. Classes are scheduled to begin within a week, but Claire is now sidetracked by a sleuthing mission.

    At a deeper level, Claire is also grappling with mysteries more personal than the murder of her colleague’s wife. At 54, Claire Gray is “starting over”—in a new career, in a new locale, hoping to resolve some vexing problems of the past that she has all too glibly dismissed. This emotional subplot will carry throughout the series, giving the books their “serial” flavor while each of the stories focuses on a distinct whodunit.

  3. Desert Winter (2003)
    The show must go on. But director Claire Gray has murder on her mind.

    After a long, successful career on Broadway, Claire moved cross-country to head the theater department of the newly built Desert Arts College near Palm Springs, California. Imagine Claire’s surprise—after some thirty years of a largely peaceful existence in Manhattan—when her new life is darkened by a second murder investigation within mere months of her move.

    Stewart Chaffee, an aging, eccentric art collector and society decorator, has agreed to lend Claire an antique Austrian clock that will provide the finishing touch for the stage setting of her first production at the college. When Claire arrives as scheduled to pick up the rare timepiece, she finds Chaffee dead, victim of what appears to be a gruesome kitchen accident.

    Detective Larry Knoll quickly determines that the mishap was no accident, but murder. Suspects abound, ranging from the elderly man’s nurse to his bitter houseman. Even Larry’s brother (and Claire’s best friend), Grant Knoll, is seen in a suspicious light. Making matters worse, two of Claire’s students were with her when she made the grim discovery, news of which soon infects the entire cast of her play, threatening the artistic integrity of her all-important opening night.

    Tied to the crime by chance and circumstance, Claire resolves to match wits with a clever, ruthless killer. With a bit of assistance from an old friend—journalist Mark Manning—she struggles to bring the investigation to a rapid, decisive close.

  4. Desert Spring (2004)
    Fifty-four and single, Claire Gray has recently embarked upon a new life. Having lived for some 30 years in New York, where she established herself as one of Broadway’s most respected directors, she has agreed to head the theater department of a recently built college near Palm Springs, California.

    It is now April, some seven months after her arrival. Settling into a new home, she has just directed her second major production at Desert Arts College, a revival of her own hit play, Traders, starring Tanner Griffin, a 26-year-old heartthrob she has discovered, taught, and mentored.

    The powerful film producer Spencer Wallace has seen Tanner act, and he agrees—Tanner is sensational. In fact, Wallace has signed Tanner to appear in his next major movie, Photo Flash. Widely known as Mr. Blockbuster, Wallace has high hopes for this project; he wrote the script himself, based on his own photography hobby.

    Claire couldn’t be prouder, but the trouble is, she and the much younger Tanner have developed an intimate relationship—they’re practically living together—and now that Traders has closed, Tanner will soon be leaving for Hollywood. Claire knows she’s losing him, and in a moment of frustration at the play’s closing-night party, she blurts to Tanner, “I could kill Spencer Wallace for stealing you from me!” Sure enough, after the party, Wallace is found dead in Claire’s swimming pool, and before the night is over, her remarks have been reported to Detective Larry Knoll, who’s investigating the suspicious death.

    It was murder, all right, and as details of Wallace’s demise begin to emerge from the investigation, Claire finds herself increasingly under suspicion. But she’s not alone, far from it, and Detective Knoll eventually welcomes her assistance in sorting through the facts and the suspects. It seems everyone had a plausible motive against Wallace—with motives ranging from professional rivalry to base revenge for financial loss and sexual peccadilloes.

    At times rollicking and at other times profoundly serious, the story mixes irreverent laughter with Claire’s dawning insights into the classic middle-age riddles of lost youth. These emotional extremes serve to bracket the ongoing whodunit, which Claire finally solves in a moment of victory—vowing once again to restrict her future triumphs to “the theatrical variety.” Somehow, we’re left with the lingering impression that Claire’s sleuthing days are far from over.

    See also Photo Flash: A Comic Mystery in Two Acts in plays below.

  5. Desert Summer (2005)
    Claire Gray, a renowned Broadway director who now heads the theater department at Desert Arts College near Palm Springs, California, is looking forward to a quiet summer, rounding out the first year in her new career as an educator. She’s not just lounging by the pool sipping martinis, though. Several mornings a week, she conducts a theater workshop at the college, experimenting with a script that’s under consideration for production next season—the stage version of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

    One Friday during class, she is visited by the school’s founder, billionaire D. Glenn Yeats, who invites Claire to attend a party that night. It’s not, however, a typical cocktail party. First, it’s at the home of the computer tycoon himself. And second, the short guest list has been fabricated at the last minute as an excuse for Glenn not to meet privately with his ex-wife Felicia, who has just blown in to town.

    Felicia has a bone to pick with the terms of their divorce settlement, and she doesn’t hesitate to vent her bitterness in front of Glenn’s guests that night; she even makes a veiled threat to burn down a house they’ve been tussling over, a modern masterpiece by architect I. T. Dirkman, who is present that evening. Glenn tries to keep the peace, mixing his feisty ex a few drinks. And by morning, Felicia is found dead in her hotel room, the victim of antifreeze poisoning.

    Was it murder? Were Glenn’s bartending skills to-die-for? Cheers!

Mark Manning Series (A gay journalist in Chicago, Illinois.)
  1. Flight Dreams (1997)
    Mark Manning, an investigative reporter for the Chicago Journal, has struggled for seven years to solve the mystery of a missing heiress, who he believes is still alive. Now he’s under an ultimatum from his publisher—he has ninety days to prove his theory, or his career is finished. Something else has been on his mind as well, and it colors his thoughts as he awakes from a restless sleep at home on a Saturday morning in October.

  2. Eye Contact (1998)
    It begins simply enough when Chicago Journal reporter Mark Manning is assigned to replace a colleague on a top story. Renowned astrophysicist Pavo Zarnik claims to have discovered a tenth planet, but to the skeptical reporter, there is no story because there is no proof. And without proof, there is no element of mystery . . . until Manning makes some startling discoveries of his own. Then Zarnik’s story is no longer a matter of physics, but of murder. And it’s not just foul play that captures Manning’s imagination. He has a new assistant, cub reporter David Bosch, whose sole interest in journalism seems to be Mark himself—awakening in Manning every yearning he has struggled to keep in check since building his new life with another man, architect Neil Waite. Eye Contact is a fiercely unpredictable, adrenaline-rushed story of murder, erotic illusion, and a devastating crime that reveals the mysteries of the human heart.

  3. Body Language (1999)
    The holidays are approaching, but Chicago Journal reporter Mark Manning is anything but joyous. His career at the Journal has maxed out, and another birthday has him contemplating his own mortality. Though he’s achieved emotional bedrock with architect Neil Waite, his lover of three years, Manning needs a major life change.

    That change awaits him in the idyllic little Wisconsin town of Dumont, where his family’s roots lie. He’s made plans to take over the local paper, to purchase the rambling old house on Prairie Street that he once visited as a child, and to reacquaint himself with his wealthy cousin, Suzanne Quatrain. It’s a dream come true, but as Manning discovers soon after his arrival, the promise of a new beginning is shaded by something sinister, by dark secrets that someone wants left buried. It begins with a series of threatening letters. Then, on Christmas day, under his own roof, a killer strikes. In the words of our hero himself, “This one has it all—deceit, greed, secrets, and lust. Not to mention murder.”

  4. Name Games (2000)
    What’s in a name? Everything, at least in the small world of dollhouse interiors. When the reigning “king of miniatures” pays a visit to Dumont—then turns up dead, strangled with a silk scarf—local newspaper publisher Mark Manning brings his investigative skills to the fore. Confronted by dizzying plot twists, with motives that range from professional rivalry to election shenanigans, Manning soon discovers that there’s much more at stake than dollhouses. There’s a killer on the loose . . . one who’s not toying around.

  5. Boy Toy (2001) -- Finalist, 2001 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men's Mystery
    Teenage rivalry turns deadly in the fifth Mark Manning mystery, when Thad Quatrain, Manning’s ward and nephew, becomes the prime suspect in a fellow student’s baffling murder. Making matters worse, both boys have been preparing for roles in a summer-theater production, and when Thad steps into the starring role, it seems that life—like death—has imitated art. Even though Thad does not yet face charges for the tragedy, local gossip has already convicted him, prompting our journalist-hero to bring his investigative talents to the fore. Manning soon finds himself in a race against time to exonerate his nephew, but the plot only thickens—involving wild mushrooms, amateur theater, and erotic massage. How do these disparate elements come together? You’ll discover the startling answers in Boy Toy, Michael Craft’s craftiest novel to date.

  6. Hot Spot (2002) -- Finalist, 2002 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men'sMystery
    During his distinguished career as a journalist, Mark Manning has seen it all—riots, murder, political corruption, and every manifestation of the dark heart of the human species. But even his proven emotional resources will be stretched when the home he shares with his lover, architect Neil Waite, and his ward and nephew, Thad Quatrain, becomes the site of one of the most daunting, taxing, and potentially dangerous of all human rituals—a wedding.

    Roxanne Exner, best friend to both Mark and Neil, is having her nuptial ceremony at their house in the normally bucolic Dumont, Wisconsin, partly because Carl Creighton, her husband-to-be, is in the final weeks of his campaign for lieutenant governor of Illinois. For Roxanne, Dumont will afford some needed distance from the campaign, and for the city of Dumont, it will be the social event of the season. The wedding, despite everyone’s fears, comes off with nary a hitch. The reception, however, takes a disastrous turn when a local matron, who happens to be a major donor to the campaign of Creighton’s rival, is killed in what appears to be a freak electrical mishap.

    Authorities soon discover that the electrocution was no accident. It was murder. Then another shocker—Roxanne herself becomes the prime suspect. If Roxanne is ever to enjoy her honeymoon, and if Carl and his running mate are to stand a chance of election, Mark will have to win a race against the clock to solve a most perplexing crime.

  7. Bitch Slap (2004)
    Sometimes, things get out of hand. In the seventh and final Mark Manning mystery, things really get out of hand when Glee Savage, the demure society editor at Mark’s small-town daily newspaper, hauls off and ferociously bitch-slaps Gillian Reece, principal figure in an important local business merger. The ill will quickly escalates till Gillian takes a fateful tumble. The merger is off, and once again, Mark’s got a deadly mess on his hands.

    It’s another in the string of perplexing deaths that have plagued Mark’s otherwise contented life since moving from Chicago to Dumont, Wisconsin. For several years, he has been serving as publisher of the Dumont Daily Register, which he owns. What’s more, he sits on the boards of the county’s two largest companies, Quatro Press and Ashton Mills, so it’s only natural that he’s been involved with the proposed merger. His lover, architect Neil Waite, has even been hired to design a spectacular new home for Ashton’s prickly and aggressive CEO, Gillian Reece.

    With Gillian’s untimely death, however, and the secrets bared by it, everything is jeopardized—the merger, the design project, the future of Mark’s business, his ethical principles—and far, far more. The comfortable, secure life he has built and cherished could unravel completely, and quickly. Then, when he least expects it, Mark discovers a horrifying truth, and the aftermath of Gillian’s death confronts him with not only the most puzzling, but the deepest and most urgent questions of his investigative career.

(For more information about plays, contact Michael Craft directly.)
  • The Transit of Venus: A Play (2004)
    The Transit of Venus is a lighthearted drama of evolving relationships among seven disparate characters who have gathered at a Wisconsin lake house to observe a rare astronomical event. The general style and structure of the play may be reminiscent of some of Lanford Wilson’s work, while its witty, bantering dialogue may bring A.R. Gurney to mind, though written from a Midwestern perspective. Add to this a dash of magic realism, and the stage is set for soul-deep revelations.

    The action begins at dawn on Tuesday, June 8, 2004, as the guests of Joan Harper emerge from her house on the western shore of Lake Michigan, awaiting sunrise, when they will get their first glimpse of a transit of Venus, the first since 1882. During the transit, a sort of mini-eclipse, Venus is seen in silhouette, passing across the face of the sun.

    Joan, still a free spirit at 60, is the widow of Gordon Harper, a renowned astrophysicist who died two years earlier, and she has not yet fully adjusted to the circumstances of her loss. We meet her daughter, a lawyer, and her son-in-law, an astronomy professor who was mentored by Gordon. The three are caught in a tangle of strained relationships, made worse by a career decision facing the daughter, which could possibly spell the end of her marriage.

    And the other houseguests don’t get along at all. The superficial yuppies, man and wife, don’t know what to make of the gay architecture professor, who in turn is riddled with insecurity over his budding romance with a 21-year-old student of classic literature. The young man, however, proves to be the wisest of them all, and in the end, he leads the others through transformations of self-discovery.

  • Photo Flash: A Comic Mystery in Two Acts (2003)
    Photo Flash is the story of Claire Gray, a renowned theater director transplanted from Broadway to the faculty of an arts college near Palm Springs, California. On the closing night of one of her plays, she hosts a cast party at her home, only to find her guest of honor, a powerful movie producer, dead in her swimming pool. Making matters worse, an exaggerated, offhand comment she made at the party, overheard by the caterer, casts her in a suspicious light. Incriminating circumstances continue to mount, and before long, Claire finds herself assisting the local sheriff’s detective in unraveling a bizarre, deadly plot that points to poisoned photographic chemicals.

    Michael Craft used the play as the basis for his tenth novel, titled Desert Spring.

    Premiered September 19 – October 4, 2003 at the Rhode Opera House, 514 56th Street, Kenosha, Wisconsin

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