Book Review: “To the Hilt” & “War Paint”

| Nov 21, 2022
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By Elizabeth Parker

Wouldn’t it be nice to read a transgender book in public? Well now you can. This is the first column of a monthly series devoted to reviewing mainstream fiction books with transgender characters or topics. It is very much in the spirit of some of the lists currently found on some of the web and ftp sites. My goal is to inform you about new books which haven’t made it to those lists yet. Occasionally I’ll provide further information about books on the lists which may not have much known about them. The books I’ll review here are not those produced by transgender publishers, but those you’d find at most bookstores. I’ll try to emphasize books currently in print or easily available at used bookstores.

The first book of the series must be the latest Dick Francis book, To The Hilt. Dick Francis is always a joy to read, as he provides good suspense, as well as competent and likable heroes. Several times in prior books he has described very brief crossdressing sequences or alluded to such. This is the first book in which he incorporates extensive crossdressing. The best part is, it is not the villain who does it! So many times the transgender character is the evil villain. But as we all know, we transgender types are productive members of society. Wouldn’t it be nice to use our skills and proclivities for good?

Francis’ hero in this book, Alexander Kinloch, is a reclusive, eclectic young man who plays the bagpipes and paints extraordinary pictures of golfing subjects. When his stepfather’s health fails, he is engaged to restore the family’s bankrupt brewery. Complications ensue, with unknown enemies striving to sabotage his every move. In desperation, Kinloch hires a private detective who uses many disguises. One of the detective’s favorite disguises is a black-haired secretary type, who is apparently quite attractive. The detective provides some bodyguard services disguised as the secretary at several points in the story, and at one point, a friend wonders if the hero and the disguised detective are dating. This is one book which you will not want to skim from transgender topic to topic. I highly recommend this book for both transgender content and an enjoyable read (the ultimate).

The next book, will be somewhat spoiled just by being included in this review. If this bothers you don’t read any further!

The book is kind of like The Crying Game, in that the identity of the transgender character is saved as a surprise. However I was able to guess the secret just by reading the cover description and accompanying reviews, so I don’t think I’m giving away much. The transgender character is quite a self-confident individual and represents much of what I think we’d all like to be in our feminine selves.

Kay Roper comes to a small English town in 1942 as the new schoolteacher. She is aggressive, eccentric, and uses makeup, unlike the other ladies in the village. Stockings are in short supply so she draws the seam on the back of her shapely legs. Her students worship her, women admire her feminist views, and “the men languish in the trail of her Parisian perfume”. The book tells her story from various villagers’ points of view. I found the book to be mostly good for transgender reading, but didn’t enjoy its fiction elements as well. However I might be in the minority as this book was a London Daily Telegraph Book of the Year.

The book is War Paint by Tom Wakefield. It appears to have gone out of print in the U.S., but my public library has several copies, and I found quite a few copies in a factory outlet bookstore.

Both books are available through Amazon and Goodreads.

Francis, Dick, To The Hilt, Putnam Pub Group, October 1996, ISBN 0399141855

Wakefield, Tom, War Paint, St. Martin’s Press, July 1994, ISBN 0312110944

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