Williams has been watching soaps and smoking marijuana ever since cancer killed her daughter, Jewel, but her use of cocaine cost her her job at the Lofton, New York, police department. She gets clean after an old friend, a cop named Jimmy O’Roark, arrives on her doorstep. It turns out that Francesca Corelli, the charismatic, beautiful police chief of the town of New Parise, is offering her a fresh start. Williams soon delves into an investigation of the death of an undercover officer who’d been embedded in the town’s leading drug gang, run by an African-American albino man named Charles Himmel, also known as Snow Black. One of Williams’ old Vassar classmates, Vanessa King, lived out Williams’ dream of graduating from Harvard Law, but a law partner’s racial slur prompted her to work for Himmel. King argues that Himmel brings work and money to the black community by supplying a consumer good. (It’s a drug-lord-as-CEO model that’s similar to the one personified by Stringer Bell in the TV show The Wire.) King accuses the local mob, run by Pauli Trinceri, of killing the cop; they’re also suspected in the murder of Corelli’s father, the previous police chief. Jean “Zazz” Zazzinsky, a lesbian reporter fired from the local newspaper, is investigating that crime, despite Corelli’s antagonism; depending on who’s telling the story, Zazz is unhinged and obsessed with Francesca Corelli, or a threat to a powerful woman who has something to hide. The first-person narration shifts between various characters, including Williams, Zazz, other police officers and Butch Roman, the chief’s Italian-American bodybuilder lover. They speak as if to an off-screen interviewer, but the narrative transitions can sometimes be jarring and awkward. Although the storyline feels like a mashup of familiar mobster and gangster plots, its awareness of race, gender and sexual orientation shades it with greater depth. Williams, meanwhile, comes off as both soulful and hard-boiled, a woman who’s suffered, yet still strives to do right in a compromised world.
A standard-issue noir tale featuring a nonstandard detective.