My latest release is called “The Body on The Beach” and is set in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1920. It is a m/m romance murder mystery, and is part of the Australian anthology I put together for Dreamspinner Press. The authors involved in this project are Isabelle Rowan, Meredith Shayne, RJ Astruc, myself and newcomer Robyn Walker.
My story covers not only the murder mystery, but the subjects of immigration, the need for absolute discretion by the gay community, fan-tan games run illegally and opium dens. In 1920, Adelaide was as diverse a city as anywhere in Australia. My research has shown that people came from all over the world to start a new life here in this country, and Australia is a huge multicultural nation.
In “The Body on The Beach,” the main protagonist is Billy Liang, son of Chinese immigrants. He was born and raised in Australia, went to university and was elected by his countrymen to be their liaison and spokesperson for the police and local government. This role was traditional in Adelaide at the time; in 1888 until the early 1900s, the spokesman was Chinese businessman Mr. Way Lee.
Billy’s love interest is an Australian man named Tom, who is also Billy’s family lawyer. The two of them live in Billy’s house, and hide their relationship from the outside world. The only people who know about it are Jian, Billy’s butler and assistant, Bessie, the maid and Hui Zhong, Billy’s wife. Many Chinese men married women in order to continue the family line while having lovers of both sexes, this was a tradition, which is shown in China’s history.
The murder itself is based loosely on an unsolved murder from the 1950s in Adelaide, one that has fascinated me for ages. It’s called the Taman Shud case or the Mystery of the Somerton Man. (More information for those interested is here: http://www.policejournalsa.org.au/0004/16a.html)
The history of Adelaide in the twenties fascinates me, particularly as I’m the child of immigrants myself. It was not all doom and gloom—a newspaper article from 24th February, 1912 talks about a celebration for Chinese Day, when the Chinese businesses closed and there would be fireworks and in the evening, a banquet dinner with toasts being celebrated.
Chinese immigrants—and those from Italy, Greece, Romania, Russia, and all over the world—worked hard and contributed to society. The Adelaide Markets, once situated in the east part of the city center, are now on the south side, and still run as they did when they were established by market gardeners who sold their produce there. Those market gardeners were Chinese, Greek and Italian immigrants and the legacy of their market gardens continues today.
Despite the illegal fan-tan games, which ran for years, despite numerous arrests, and the sale of opium, which was illegal and also resulted in numerous arrests, the Chinese community prospered and became as vital a part of the Australian multicultural landscape as any citizen of the country. This is something I touch on in my story as well, the games and the opium were a constant thorn in the side of the police and the businessmen and the spokesperson for the Chinese.
Finally, I want to share some of the amazing photographs from the era, all are public domain and from the State Library of South Australia.
Brighton beach in 1920. This is how the beach where the murder and part of the investigations in “The Body on The Beach” looked during the story.
From 1907, a display of goods from Chinese market gardeners in the East End Markets.
Group photograph of the members of the Kuo Min Tang in Adelaide, 1920.
L. J. LaBarthe can be found in the following places:
“The Body on The Beach” is the latest release from L. J. LaBarthe. It’s a m/m romance and murder mystery, set in Adelaide in 1920. It is part of the “Under the Southern Cross” anthology put together by L. J., which features work from Isabelle Rowan, Meredith Shayne, RJ Astruc, L. J. LaBarthe and newcomer Robyn Walker. The anthology is five Australian m/m stories by five Australian authors and is out with Dreamspinner Press in March/April. Stay tuned to http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=116 for more information.