For me, good books are the hardest to review. I mean, it’s easy—and sometimes not even fair—to find flaws in the work of writers who really don’t understand writing, but what do I say about a writer who does? Sure, Tasha Fairbanks’ characters are good, her prose is compelling, her plot is exciting and unusual—but these are things that we expect from a good novel.
One thing I can do is to say what other books this one reminds me of. The scene and part of the fin de siecle tone is somewhat similar to Clare Sudbery’s sometimes-brilliant The Dying of Delight, right down to the literary title. What the book reminds me most of, though, is J.K. Rowling. No, not the Harry Potter books, but the others. The setting and multiple point-of-view shifts are reminiscent of Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy and the detective reminds me of Rowling’s Cormoran Strike, with his flawed character and his super assistant.
In fact, Sam Carter, trying to get over a failed relationship, is pretty down and out. She has an office and a drinking habit and that’s pretty much it. Her job as a private detective has been reduced to serving writs. But when an old acquaintance calls and asks her to investigate the murder of her foster daughter, Sam knows that she must clean herself up before she can clean up the case.
And what a case it is. It involves a runaway girl, a murder, a fertility clinic, a genetic lab, S&M, and a righteous, bigoted, right-wing church. But it is really the characters that move the story. Sam is steady, well-spoken, professional, and believable. Her bouncy sidekick—young reporter Sarah Ginsberg—has issues out the yin-yang: mother issues, boyfriend issues, career issues, even sexuality issues. But Fairbanks handles all her characters masterfully.
Lotsa characters and lotsa third-person points of view. In fact, one criticism I have of the book is that there are too many points of view. Some characters appear seemingly out of thin air and disappear just as quickly. It is distracting when you have to pause in your reading and wonder, “Now who is this character? Have I seen her before?” before realizing that it is a new character altogether.
Another flaw is that some of the important characters disappear without even a by-your-leave. Just because they don’t figure in the denouement doesn’t mean that we don’t want to know what happens to them. Finally, Sam’s love (if you can call it that) interest isn’t all that special. In fact, the sexual tension between her and two of the other characters is quite palpable while it is nonexistent in the woman she fancies.
So give this one as close to a four as you want to without going over. Less if you are as disappointed as I am that Fairbanks or her editors didn’t see Sam Carter and Sarah Ginsberg as worthy of a fine series instead of simply a one-off.
For more than 250 other Lesbian Mystery reviews by Megan Casey, see her website at http://sites.google.com/site/theartofthelesbianmysterynovel/ or join her Goodreads Lesbian Mystery group at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries