Disenchanted characters find violence—or dispatch it—behind the wheel in Jennings’ (Generic Airport Thriller, 2014, etc.) collection of crime-noir tales.
In “Firebird,” the book’s opening story, Dorothy is a woman running from something. In the small Texas town where she befriends a cocktail waitress, the only thing of significance is a raging, monthlong fire that seems to be in her path. This sets the tone for the five stories that follow, all led by female characters with dark pasts or secrets lives and bleak, brutal futures. Alex, for instance, helps Nikki escape her pimp boyfriend in “911,” but Alex herself is fleeing dangerous people looking to retaliate for a murder she committed. The women dabble quite a bit in bullets, blood, and sharp objects, but Jennings avoids a strictly feminist interpretation. It’s true that men are often targets for revenge or sources of turmoil, but there are numerous female antagonists, as in “Escort,” which pits prostitute Ruthie—who inadvertently killed a gangster during sex—against female bodyguard and surveillance expert Bex. Jennings offsets the book’s somber ambience by dropping touches of lightheartedness, starting with the playful titles: “Audi” features deaf-mute teenager/car-thief Wendy. There’s likewise a strong noirish vibe running throughout, as sharp dialogue and brief chapters make the narratives zoom past like speeding cars. Strength here is indisputable, but it isn’t always physical: Ruthie surprises everyone by effortlessly evading gangsters, and the unnamed narrator in “Trans Am” does crystal meth just to help her chase down husband-killer Katie, who’s on the run. Sex is, rather appropriately, more a sober affair than erotic. In “Crown Victoria,” the book’s final and perhaps best story, the protagonist (whose sex is intentionally vague) and companion Winona are tragic characters—the latter desperate for love, the former denying it—whose recurring bouts of spanking and submission give the acts a much more profound meaning than mere fun.
A smashing, original collection likely to be read again and again.