Woman of Noir
Megan Abbott is one of the best contemporary noir writers. My introduction to her work was a short story, Policy, which appeared in an anthology of short stories, Damned Near Dead edited by Duane Swierczyinski. It appeared one year after her debut novel, Die A Little. Abbott expanded Policy into a novel, Queenpin.
Queenpin is a story set in the world of Bugsy Siegel, Lucky Luciano, casinos, race tracks, betting parlors, and heists. The story is told by a nameless young woman who starts out as a book keeper at a seedy cocktail lounge, the Club Tee Hee. She meets Gloria Denton, an elegant mob luminary who is probably about 60, but looks 45 in the right light. The story opens with the lines:
I want the legs.
That’s the first thing I think. The legs are the legs of a 20-year-old Vegas showgirl, a hundred feet long and with just enough curve and give and promise.
Gloria takes the unnamed young bookkeeper under her wing. She teaches her how to act, how to dress, how to place bets so you don’t mess up the odds, but get a 70% return on your bets. Gloria is cunning and ruthless. Stories accumulate around her. How she carried a long-handled, bejeweled scissors with her when she collected money in the rough parts of town; How she gutted a stripper who had crossed her with a straight razor; How she worked a roomful of mobsters on her knees.
Gloria has one measure of success. When a woman calls her a whore, Gloria responds,
“I’m the best damn cocksucker in this burg, and I got the rocks to prove it. Your knees have rubbed plenty of carpets, you rotten bitch. Where are your diamonds?”
Under the guidance of her mentor, the young woman finds that the world is at her feet. The two of them are making money and acquiring power. But as their money and power grows, the young woman takes some dangerous risks, like falling for the wrong guy. Both Gloria and the young woman have to scramble to keep their operation going. Soon they are in competition with each other and scrambling to stay alive.
My bookmark is in . . .
The Fever, by Megan Abbott, 2014. Unlike Queenpin, which was set in the 1950’s, The Fever is contemporary. The story opens with a strange ritual performed by a group of high school girls. We aren’t given the details of the ritual. Perhaps they will be revealed before the book ends.
We meet Deenie Nash, a diligent student, her brother Eli, a high school hockey star, and her father Tom, a teacher at the high school. Tom is divorced and dating women. Eli and Deenie are experimenting with sex, Eli more so than Deenie. Deenie’s best friend suffers a convulsion during class, causing turmoil among the clique of girls Deenie hangs with, and causing consternation among the parents and school officials.
The LeRoy, New York mass hysteria case in 2012 inspired the book.