Friday, December 28, 2007

Queenpin -- Megan Abbott

It’s taken me a while to get around to reading this book, but I’m certainly glad I did. Many of you have probably already read QUEENPIN, Megan Abbott’s third novel. For those who haven’t, it’s the story of a young woman (whose real name we never learn, unless I just missed it somehow), who’s working as a bookkeeper in a sleazy, mob-connected strip joint when she becomes the protégé of an older woman who has spent twenty years working for organized crime as a courier and money launderer. Our narrator takes to the work with a minimum of fuss or mental anguish and becomes good at it, but then, wouldn’t you know it, she meets the wrong guy – a handsome gambler who always seems to be just one bet away from the big score – and Things Go to Hell.

When you just read the bare bones of that plot, it’s easy to say that QUEENPIN is something of a gimmick book: taking a standard, Gold Medal-type noir plot and inverting it so that the protagonist is female instead of male. Funny thing is, when you actually read the book you don’t really get that sense at all because Abbott is so good at creating characters and dragging you along with them as things get worse and worse. The setting of this one isn’t quite as well defined as it is in her other two novels; maybe it’s set in the Fifties, like DIE A LITTLE and THE SONG IS YOU, or maybe it’s the early Sixties, but either way it’s emphatically Not Now. The world of race tracks and night clubs through which the narrator moves is vividly rendered, and the dialogue that could have sounded like a parody of that era comes across as real and natural.

What it comes down to is that Megan Abbott is just a damned fine writer. Short, fast, and mean, like good noir fiction is supposed to be, QUEENPIN is her best book yet, and it’s easily one of the best novels I’ve read this year. (And as usual with her books, it has a great cover.)

1 comment:

Bruce said...

All her covers were done by Richie Fahey who also did all the James Bond reissues.