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For all the recent success of female private eye novels [see Orrin's reviews of 'A' is for Alibi (1982)(Sue Grafton 1940-) (Grade: A) and An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (1972)(P.D. [Phyllis Dorothy] James 1920-) (Grade: B+) ], you'd be hard pressed to call most of them hard-boiled. So acclaimed new novelist Jenny Siler--whose first book, Easy Money, was a NY Times Notable Book of the Year in 1999--and Meg Gardner, the anti-heroine of this second effort, are blazing a new trail; unless there are strong objections, we'll call it "chick noir."
Megan Gardner has recently returned to Missoula, Montana after serving an 18 month prison sentence in New Mexico. Her checkered past is partly the result of one horrific incident in her childhood, when her mother shot and severely brain-damaged her father. Now Meg is repossessing cars and trying to reconstruct her life in her old hometown. She's estranged from her mom, who beat the shooting rap but is now consigned to caring for Megan's nearly zombie-like father. In addition, she's got a Czech boyfriend, though she refuses to refer to him that way and won't tell him she loves him; a drag queen repo partner; a Russian gangster who owes her a favor or two; and the chief of police has sort of kept an eye on her since he investigated the shooting years ago.
One winter night, Meg snatches a Jeep belonging to Clay Bennett, a local businessman who was killed earlier in the evening by a young Indian couple. But several thugs and a brawny female assassin come after Meg, in search of a map that Bennett may have been carrying in a briefcase that he left in the car. Further complicating things is Meg's growing belief that the accused Indian woman, Tina Red Deer, may be her own half sister. Drawn into the case by a series of threats, Meg ends up investigating the murder and trying to find whatever it is the missing map leads to.
There are some fairly significant problems with the novel. The mystery at its center is never satisfactorily explained and the political spin that Siler incorporates is somewhat gratuitous. More troubling is that much of the emphasis is on Meg's tangled family past, but none of her relationships-- with her father, her mother, or with Tina--are ever resolved. One supposes that these intensely personal and introspective private eye stories are here to stay, but here Meg is so emotionally distant from everyone around her, many of whom are bending over backwards trying to help, that it's hard to work up much empathy for her. Megan's emotional baggage makes her an interesting character, but one who is ultimately more off-putting than affecting.
On the other hand, Ms Siler is a very deft writer; she really revels in the opportunity for flashy metaphors that the snowbound Montana setting affords. And Meg is much tougher than many of her modern detective peers, female or male [see Orrin's review of A Savage Place (1981)(Robert B. Parker 1932-) (Grade: A)] Especially impressive is her final showdown with and disposition of the female killer. It's a good, but not great, book and one that hints at much better things to come.
-STORY : Sharks (Jenny Siler, Mississippi Review)
-BOOK SITE : Iced by Jenny Siler (FSB Associates)
-INTERVIEW : with Jenny Siler (Book Reporter)
-PROFILE : A twentysomething hits the jackpot (February 8, 1999, Ellen Emry Heltzel, The Oregonian)
-REVIEW : of Easy Money by Jenny Siler (Marilyn Stasio, NY times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of Easy Money by Jenny Siler (Val McDermid, Tangled Web)
-REVIEW : of Easy Money (Peter Walker, Tangled Web)
-REVIEW : of Easy Money by Jenny Siler (John Kennedy Melling , CrimeTime Online)
-REVIEW : of Easy Money (Scott Rogerson, Weekly Wire)
-REVIEW : of Easy Money by Jenny Siler (Whitney Rose Anderson, Mystery Reader)
-BOOK LIST : NY Times Notable Books 1999