Thursday, July 01, 2004

Downtown Noir

Serious as a Heart Attack by Louisa Luna ($23.00 Atria Books, 227 pp.)
The anti-heroine of this blisteringly raw tale is the most original character to hit crime fiction since Lynda La Plante’s Lorraine Page. Queenie Sells is a hard-drinking smart-ass who elicits both disgust and compassion while making you laugh at the same time.

Shortly after loses her job as an editor at a calendar company (yes, there is such a thing) she bumps into an old acquaintance on the subway who offers her the possibility of some quick cash for doing him a favor, and she decides to take him up on his offer. Trouble ensues.

This is a classic noir detective story in the tradition of the greats --- Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet, with a twist. The hard-drinking loner “detective” is a woman, the client who rains down trouble on her is not a rich dame with legs from here to there but a clueless rich guy with the same sense of entitlement and a stupidity are so pronounced it’s hard to keep from smacking him in the head.

Things get complicated when Queenie becomes the prime suspect in a murder and her friend wants another favor. There are two guys following her, and neither of them are cops.

Swigging everything from beer to Margaritas to Jack Daniel’s, Queenie doggedly pursues the truth (even when she has to pull her day’s wardrobe out of the dirty laundry) in order to evade arrest. Traveling from her Lower East Side home base to El Barrio to the Upper East Side, The Four Seasons and The Waldorf-Astoria, Queenie wise-cracks her way through the mayhem.

The dark humor here is broken by a couple of moments of breath-taking poignancy mostly in flashback which display the author’s serious talent. We’re left wanting more of Queenie and more of Louisa Luna.

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