Sunday, August 21, 2016

Review: Queenpin

Queenpin Queenpin by Megan Abbott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one I’ve been looking for. I’ve wanted to find a genuine noir story from a woman’s perspective, one that turns the genre on its head in some of the ways Walter Mosley did a generation ago.

Our protagonist is a bright young woman who gets taken up as the protégé of a Virginia Hill like mob courier. In retrospect, the setting is just what a female take on the genre needed – a character built on probably the most famous woman ever to be part of the major gangster world. I didn’t see it in advance, but Abbott writes with such skill that her story has an almost necessary quality to it after the fact. Of course our heroine is swimming in those same waters.

In the best of ways, this is legit noir. “Queenpin” Gloria Denton is wily, patient and vicious, and she’s a good teacher. We learn the world just as our protagonist does. Setting up so much of the novel as a tutorial, a fresh kind of tutorial, smoothly sets up all the background we get. (And, for the record, we get that background with real skill; there aren’t pockets of ‘information dump’ here, just quick explanations of why someone’s doing what she does.)

Abbott’s excellence extends to the sentence, too. Check out this description of the suckers, “They took their chances and I got the sweet butter skimmed off their bad luck.” This is a quick, full novel, yet I knocked it out in one sitting. It’s pulp like the best of pulp is meant to be.

I can’t help comparing her to the very strong Sara Gran, the other contender for top female noir protagonist(s). I’ve read one novel by each, and I’ve liked both. On the basis of these, though, I have to give the clear edge to Abbott. She’s got a brand new one that’s getting good reviews, and she’s got a nice back-list that I look forward to exploring. I’m going to try to get to more of her stuff soon.

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