A schoolteacher gets jumpy when her brother falls for sizzling hot dame.
Well, it’s not quite as sleazy as that, but this first novel has everything one could hope for in a noir without ever seeming imitative or stale. The author of The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir (not reviewed), Abbott knows just how to set her readers up for her taut little tale set, natch, in the City of Angels in the 1950s. Narrator Lora King is a quiet girl with no real romantic prospects. Not old but definitely not young, she’s a teacher who spends most of her time with her square-jawed and well-meaning brother Bill, an investigator for the DA’s office. When Bill gets married to Alice Steele, a drop-dead-gorgeous glamour girl who reeks of femme fatale, you’d think it would pull brother and sister apart. But even Lora has to admit that Alice, for all her mysterious past and near-neurotic levels of antic activity, seems like a pretty good wife, all said, with fancy dinner parties, cocktail hours with the neighbors, nightclub outings. Like the sister Lora never had, Alice even comes to teach at Lora’s school and gets her a boyfriend, a publicist she knows from back when she worked in movies. But, still, Lora can see the chinks in Alice’s façade. She knows that Alice’s friends look like trouble. And there are those rumors she’s starting to hear. . . . Not for Abbot are the self-conscious pastiches of Chandler imitators or the crazed spewings of a James Ellroy, but instead she gives us the true dark heart of the city in sharply contrasted blacks and whites, dense with heartache. Even though readers may be reminded of a dozen previous books or films, Abbott makes sure they won’t mistake this one for any but her own.
In these tasty noir stylings, you can almost smell the smoke and hear the clinking of ice cubes.