Heroine has seen it all before, and so has the reader

the book:

Salmon in the Soup by Meg O'Brien

published 1990    chapter 11

A couple of well-placed calls located Paulie for me… in Atlantic City where he owned a small casino… I picked up a budget rental, then headed out on the Atlantic City Expressway. The drive took another hour.

Somewhere after Pleasantville, I switched on a local radio station and rolled down the windows, letting dinner jazz fill my ears and the briny air hit my face. I could see myself dancing in the Whatever Ballroom, high atop Atlantic City’s own Tropi-cana-dero-schmero-Fountain-Bleu Hotel – swirling in a black chiffon dress and sporting a long creamy string of pearls. It was in that frame of mind that I meandered into town in my rumpled white jeans and shirt, letting the casino tour buses whiz on by.

I found Paulie’s place on the boardwalk, a good distance way from either Trump’s or Harrah’s higher-priced locations.

observations: Jess James is an investigative reporter in upstate New York, she’s a reformed alcoholic, she knows all the bad boys in her town, she’s in trouble with her boss, she’s not sure about her clothes, she is looking into a crime but gets warned off …. Feel you’ve heard it all before? She is something of a Me-Too heroine, popping up after Kinsey Milhone and V I Warshawski. This book isn’t bad, but doesn’t feel distinctive enough. If you read a lot of detective fiction, sometimes you feel that there’s a central list of attributes, events and plot devices, and that the writer has made a random selection. The title, by the way, is pretty much meaningless. When I picked up this book secondhand – published in the UK in 1993 by the very feminist Women’s Press – I thought it was unusual to find an author, series and protagonist that I had never heard of. But maybe not so surprising after all.

Links up with: George Eliot seems like a bit of a leap, but Gwendolen Harleth visits a casino in
Daniel Deronda. There are plenty of black frocks and pearls all over the blog, but this bad girl in a black dress is particularly fabulous.

**For an excellent overview of 1980s mysteries in another blog, go to Margot Kinberg's Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.

Adolph de Meyer took the photo
– he was Vogue’s first fashion photographer, and has featured before.


  1. I know just what you mean about the genre, but the dress is lovely!

  2. Moira - Nicely done and thoughtful discussion here of the way the success of some female PI's created sort of a "me too" feeling about some other work. The dress really is gorgeous though!

  3. Perhaps this was like today with everyone looking for (or looking to be) the next Stieg Larsson except then everyone was looking for the next Paretsky or Grafton...there are probably lots of copycats that disappeared

  4. Thanks all for your interesting comments. I feel that it's only looking back that you see the trends - I didn't feel aware of the burgeoning female investigators at the time. But that's always the way isn't it?
    And a black dress and pearls is good in any era.
    Margot I have added a link in the entry to your very interesting piece on the 1980s.


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