Bird Blacker—who has one of the oddest names in lesbian mystery fiction—is an ex-police officer now working as a bounty hunter, probably the first bounty hunter in the genre. Comparisons beg to be made between Bird and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, and there are a few. Both women are tenacious and funny, both have male partners, and both have family that are active in the plot. But Bird is a closeted lesbian and lives on the other side of the country from Stephanie. The better comparison might be between Bird and Domino Harvey, a real-life bounty hunter. Domino , who died in 2005—the year before this book was published—was about the same age as Bird and lived in Los Angeles.
Wanted is a quick read and an enjoyable one. In fact, 95 percent of it is hilarious. It is a true comic novel, even more humorous than the novels of Mabel Maney or Deborah Powell. Bird was flushed from her nest as a police officer when she had an affair with her male partner’s wife, and had to take a job as a “fugitive recovery agent.” Her new boss, Vicky Da Vinci, not only owns the bail bonding agency, but is a painter as well. Bird’s arch-rival is a gigantic, bald, and heavily muscled bounty hunter named Mochabean, a man so unpleasant that he pretends to have friends by forcing his handcuffed skips to have a drink with him in his favorite bar before he turns them over to the police. To boot, Bird’s partner in hunting is a pacifist who refuses to put bullets in his gun.
But the real star of the book is Bird’s younger sister Ruby. A 20-year-old college dropout, Ruby makes Bird’s life a living hell from the minute she shows up for a visit. The sisters agree on absolutely nothing, and Bird’s dangerous job leaves her no time to babysit. Ruby, on the other hand, wants to help Bird catch fugitives. But when the mob gets involved and Ruby is kidnapped by Bird’s ex-girlfriend (whose similarity to Lacey Montgomery, in Tonya Muir’s Breaking Away is duly noted), Bird has to risk everything to save her.
But that’s really only the surface of things. Most of the story is a madcap romp through LA—the kind of a book that Butch Fatale tried to be but failed. Ignore any of the bad reviews you see for this first novel—I suspect that the readers just didn’t get it—it’s written well enough for me to suspect that Alvarado is the pseudonym for a more experienced author. The basic plot has Bird finding a man who has skipped bail and turning him in. Trouble is, the man is the son of the local mob boss, who does everything he can to recover his son and to make Bird—and her sister—pay for their interference.
But remember when I said in the second paragraph that the book was 95 percent hilarious? Well, the other 5 percent consists of tough, fist-in-your-teeth violence. Although I don’t like violence in literature, I’m sure there’s a place for it. My objection here is that it is so out of tone with the rest of the writing that it almost could have been lifted from another novel altogether: Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream, maybe, or Palahniuk’s Fight Club. And most of this violence comes in the first couple of chapters. An incredibly off-putting beginning to what becomes a very enjoyable novel. It probably cost the author the better part of a star. Still, I’ll give it somewhere around a 3.8 and sigh at what the novel could have been.
For other 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