In which I try and fail to review a book ...

... and end up generally rambling on, as usual.

A few weeks a go, I worked for the first time with (yet another) Florida Keys Noir Crime writer Jessica Argyle. It's okay. I love that stuff. And Jessica's book is as close to proper literary fiction as self-conscious modern genre fiction gets. No Name Key is part history, part crime, part sweaty-insect-bitten-marooned-in-the-everglades drama. It may be a little retro, but it is also shouting for the core of the women's movement.

Not really shouting, actually. It's more that kind of throaty growl of a she-wolf hidden in a thicket that means "we both know you know I'm here; don't make me come out there."

No Name Key is a damn fine book and I'm impatient for its publication.

Anyway, when my authors go to the trouble of recommending a book to me, I generally have a damn good go at actually reading it, and Jessica suggested I read Miami Purity by Vicki Hendricks.

This is where I try to review it.

I'm going to start with the cover. I don't usually bother talking about covers of published books, but I really hate this cover, so I'm going to talk about it. The type face (font) is a disaster. It makes it look like this is classic noir, and it just isn't. I'm expecting all women in long dresses and guys stuffed into dinner suits and some plot that turns around a laundry ticket for a coat that has some incriminating evidence in the pocket. Some run of the mill retro rich white folks and private dicks.

That ain't it. The cover needs to scream, sex, betrayal, and weird, skewed, awkwardness. It shouldn't be slick.

See here, Miami Purity, about which I'm going to say something like "I really wanted to like it, and in the end I kind of did", is a book about the way that just being at the extreme end of one of the various scales of being human can make your life a weird-arse awful mess.

I had to really fight with this book to get to the end though, because the story, such as it is, doesn't keep pace with the characters. It doesn't know where to go. Partly this is because there are three clearly identifiable places where the author has said to herself: "that's a big damn crime fiction cliché right there. I'm not going there" and by not going there has kind of gone nowhere, and then on one of them, played a cliché right back by retconning a hidden twist. (All right, it might not have been a retcon, but it was painfully opportunistic and obvious. (I'm talking about the way in which Payne deals with his "rival for Sherri's affections".))

What I think goes wrong with the story is that the author loses confidence in the characters, starts to worry that they can't manage on their own, and eventually lampshades the fact that it's the characters who are driving the story, but not through what they have done so far, just through their personal character flaws. ("I told you, she'll fuck up and leave. She'll fuck herself with her drinking.")

In the end, I think that the author should have taken the risk, done the clichés and watch the fun as unexpectedly convincing nymphomaniac, exhibitionist alcoholic Sherri stumbles from one screw up to another.

Some reviewers will, I'm sure, have complained that there was too much sex. Well there was, for the story, but not for the character of Sherri. The saturation level shagging is essential. It's the only way to get across to the reader just what it is like to be like that. It isn't erotic. It isn't even funny. Sometimes Sherri gets what she's desperate for, and it's a very brief relief. That is good, daring, successful writing.

What I'd like to see from this author is a simpler, less original story, a lot more awareness of her own themes so that she can explore, inform and entertain, and push the originality and believability of the characters towards and beyond the limits of what readers will readily accept.

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