Written by MC Grant — With all of the recent fuss about writers’ pseudonyms, perhaps MC Grant is justified in telling us up front that this name is a not so heavily disguised version of his actual name, Grant McKenzie, under which he has written a number of fast-paced international thrillers. It does destroy the illusion that the initials could have been hiding a female author. However, you would have been forgiven for thinking this new series featuring San Francisco based reporter Dixie Flynn is being written by a woman, because MC Grant has pitched the character perfectly.
Dixie is funny, feisty and fearless – one of the most enjoyable female detectives I have encountered since Vic Warshawski or Kinsey Millhone. There is one crucial difference, however. Dixie is not a private eye, but an amateur. One of those annoying investigative journalists that other crime writers love to put firmly in their place. Not this one, though. Dixie is given plenty of licence to be as bold, stubborn, wise-cracking and gourmand as she wants. Dixie’s long-suffering editor suggests a quieter, more sentimental story for Father’s Day, tracing a personal ad written for a long-lost father. Needless to say, the heartwarming story turns nasty, as the missing dad is also wanted by the Russian mafia. The plot soon descends into fast and furious action, difficult to summarise, but involving drug addiction, prostitution, gun-toting gangsters, sisterly love and paternal suspicion.
Our heroine means well but makes mistakes along the way, and has to resort to subterfuge and violence. She is helped by an eccentric assortment of characters including the bookie Eddie, who never leaves his back office yet has all the information at his fingertips. There are also the detective buddy Frank who offers vital insights into the police investigation, and Dixie’s lesbian neighbours who help out with some important baby-sitting. Finally, the diminutive ex-hitman Pinch. While all these characters are endearingly oddball, and you can see great potential in developing them further, throughout the series, the sheer number and variety of them becomes a bit overwhelming. It also meant that some of the characters were insufficiently rounded on this occasion and felt almost like caricatures.
Yet the feeling of community, of being able to choose your family instead of being born into it, is a key theme in this book. There is a huge contrast between Dixie’s life – ostensibly alone, yet filled with well-meaning friends – and the fatherless, truly lonely girls she wants to help. Ultimately, it is the characters and the atmosphere that made the book stand out for me. The plot itself is serviceable although not wildly original – a man on the run from the Russian mob, who end up using his daughters as bait. Dixie has to mount a rescue operation which results in a dramatic shoot-out and burnt-out building, but she does manage to reunite the family. Just not quite in the way she had expected. So if you want a pacey engrossing read, with quirky characters and witty repartee galore, this will be the perfect poolside book for you.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars