[Juliet and Lu work together in a motel. An old friend has turned up, and Lu is impressed]
I thought I could detect extra time spent on [Lu’s appearance]. Her hair was shiny and loose, and she’d worn khakis and slip-ons instead of her usual behind-the-desk jeans and tennis shoes. “You going to church after your shift?”
She grinned. “That woman last night-"
“Yeah,” I said.
“Where do you even buy clothes like that?”
“Not around here,” I said.
“I want that for my kids, you know,” she said. “you dress nice, you walk into a room, and people want to know you, be like you. They want to like you, before you event say a word. She has a good job?”
“You don’t know?” Lu shot me a side glance.
commentary: This author’s The Black Hour was a tour de force – reviewed on the blog here, and I have fond memories of reading it compulsively and finishing it within a day. And I had exactly the same reaction to this one.
Black Hour was an academic mystery set almost entirely on the campus of a well-regarded university: this one has a completely different setting – narrator Juliet works in a horrible motel in small-town America, and is obsessed with incidents in her High School past, unable to let go of what happened.
She was an excellent track runner, but never quite as good as her best friend Maddie. But still, both of them surely were going places, had a wonderful future ahead of them in education and athletics. But that didn’t happen, and now, some years later, Maddie has turned up again: she has made more of her life than Juliet has – or so it seems… Juliet has every reason to think back and remember their High School years, trying to find the traces which are going to end up in murder. She goes back to her old school to help coach the track team, and meets the new generation of girls, who remind her of herself and Maddie.
Several of these tropes are familiar in crime books, but Rader-Day mixes them up in a new way, that left me breathless and sad and angry and completely intrigued. As in the other book, her feminisim, and her awareness of what goes wrong in women’s lives, are laced perfectly into the story: but it is also a very good and well-plotted crime novel. Elements of race, class, sexism keep coming up, and are dealt with with great sensitivity.
It’s all particularly relevant when widespread sexual harassment of women is very much in the news at the moment.
I often comment here on the mystery of why some books become best-sellers and some don’t, why some authors get all the attention and others don’t. This is a prime example of a book that is little-known, and deserves a lot more fame and best-seller status.
The recent You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott – here on the blog – also dealt with the pressured world of high school over-achievers: in that book it was gymnastics.