353 pages: Women’s Crime Fiction/Coming of Age Fiction/Women’s Contemporary Fiction (It should, perhaps, also be included in ‘Political and Historical Fiction)
Subtitled ‘Shelly’s Journey Begins’, this book is a prequal to the authors debut thriller ‘Secrets and Lies in El Salvador’, which I’ve also read and reviewed. Both books are well worth anyone’s cash and time.
Set in New Orleans at the start of the 1980s, this story reveals a city seen through the eyes of a caring and intelligent but naïve, young woman who arrives there already traumatised and damaged by her home life and an event she cannot forget.
What is most surprising about this emotionally fragile woman is her combination of fear of known risks and her courage in facing them. That her life events have failed to embitter her, failed to make her selfish and isolated comes as a pleasant surprise. She is warm, approachable, kind and loving in spite of her experience, and this brings an element of much-needed hope into a book that exposes the corrupt, self-serving, prejudiced underbelly of a dangerous city in a country that still harbours the wild survival nature of its past.
We are introduced to a police force mostly comprised of ignorant white men with no concern for law, justice or peace-making. Men who are casual about the lives of women and of anyone not of their own perceived class or colour. We meet bosses who illustrate a complete lack of knowledge of how to run a business properly and who place no value on those who do the work that brings in the income they so clearly believe they deserve. And, lurking poorly concealed in the murky underworld, the FBI takes on its usual role of upholding the prejudices and concerns of the white, wealthy, religious, hypocrites who truly run the country.
The city we travel through with Shelly, often on foot, is shown as superficially vibrant but basically a dangerous and dark place where the authorities prey on those they are employed to protect, where misogyny, racism, and prejudice are rife.
For Shelly, the journey is an introduction to the realities of life in southern, urban USA, where life is cheap, especially for women and the underprivileged, and where hypocrisy rules above real concern and fellow feeling. She navigates the dangerous streets with courage, gradually growing less concerned about her own vulnerability and more outraged at the treatment of the poor, immigrants, and those with darker skin tones.
But this story is not all about the inhumanity of the human race. There is love here, generosity, friendship, support and, most essentially, humour.
It’s far from an easy read for anyone with empathy. And many readers, including those in America, perhaps even in the city itself, will be appalled at the revelations the book contains. Others will shrug, indifferent, and continue to live lives concerned only with the ambition and selfishness the daily search for the sacred dollar seems to instil in so many.
I seem to have recently read a series of books I feel the world should read. This is one in that class.
[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]