Gran’s third novel, as original and compelling as her first two (Saturn’s Return to New York, 2001, etc.), is of an ex-junkie grifter, now hired to find a missing college girl in 1950 Manhattan.
Josephine Flannigan is lucky to have made it to her 30s. Raised rough in Hell’s Kitchen, she never expected much from life. She has scraped by, pulling small cons, shoplifting, whoring when times were particularly bad—just about anything to get enough for her next fix. Clean for the past two years, Joe cashes in the occasional ring from Tiffany to pay for her furnished room and lunch at the automat. Now a $2,000 proposition comes along—a wealthy Westchester couple is looking for their daughter, a former Barnard student, now a junkie—and who better than Joe to search every shooting gallery and dance hall likely to house a pretty young girl. They give Joe a picture of their Nadine standing with a mystery man (who turns out to be Jerry McFall, a dealer and pimp), and Joe is on the case, an unlikely though effective gumshoe. Joe begins to gather leads, touring New York’s sleaziest spots, reconnecting with old friends, lifelong junkies and hustlers. She also bumps into her kid sister, Shelley, now a rising TV star. Shelley’s cleaned herself up and put the past behind her, including Joe, who admits she did a lousy job as surrogate mother, putting too much junk into her arm and not enough food on Shelley’s dinner plate. Her leads pay off, but no sooner does Joe find McFall than he’s murdered, and the cops haul Joe in as their #1 suspect, and for good reason. Joe’s been framed, the victim of a dangerous con (the Westchester couple were actors) to find McFall, and now Joe needs to uncover who set her up before the police book her for murder. A gripping mystery, but Gran’s real success is in recreating 1950s New York—the petty cons, the taxi dancers, the dank hotel rooms—a mosaic of everything sad and ugly about addiction.
Burroughs meets Hammett in this gritty, at times tragic, noir.