★ ★ ★ ★
Remember cootie catchers? We actually used them as ‘fortune tellers’ in my middle school:
It’s Halloween and a jet-lagged Robin Hudson is supposed to be meeting her intern and a group of friends for the festivities. Strangely, intern Kathy has gone AWOL, unreachable ever since leaving a message on Robin’s work answering machine saying, “I’m hiding in a married man’s closet.” Literal as that may or may not be, Robin is worried about her young, impressionable intern and tries to track her down. She discovers Kathy is following a trail of clues, clues that seem to be leading from destination to destination from Robin’s memorable first trip to the Big Apple with then-best friend, Julie Goomey. The connection between Robin and Julie began in elementary school when they were dubbed ‘cootie girls’ by the popular girl, and ever since, they’ve been creating havoc.
A recent e-release of Sparkle Hayter’s first book, What’s A Girl Gotta Do? (review) spurred me to grab Revenge off my shelves. I have been a fan of Hayter since I first discovered her back in the late 90s, and sometime in the mid-00s went on a binge to find her books for my own collection. Hayter wrote chick-lit mystery before it was a thing, and Robin is Stephanie Plum/ Veronica Mars/Izzy Spellman if they ever grew up. However, on-line book groups have kept me from re-reading with the frequency I used to. From dim memory, I suspect The Chelsea Girl Murders is my favorite, but it really is time to re-read and review. So far: Chelsea > Gotta Do > Revenge.
One of my favorite things about Revenge is that it is about women, girls, friendships and connections, all the complexities and alliances. I don’t read many books that focus on friendships without discussing men, dating and the like, but Hayter captures the challenges of supporting your friends, even as you are all in career-phase and don’t have the long association of childhood to build upon. Robin is a bit of the optimistic innocent here, which was a little disconcerting from a woman who considers glue guns weapons. Characters are multi-dimensional and multi-racial, as befitting the NYC setting. It’s inclusion as the norm. There’s also a highly finicky star cat, who will be instantly recognizable as the head of household, even if Robin is embezzling from her.
The setting is New York in two time periods, and it plays a wonderful role in all it’s delicious oddity. Robin’s first trip to NYC with Julie was a decisive step on the path that led to being a reporter and NYC resident. As Robin navigates now-NYC, she reminisces about NYC then, discovering memories are golden compared to the current reality. Diners, Irish pubs, the East Village, Times Square; it is a clever way for Hayter to play with memory and perception.
Hayter is an amazing observer, full of clever thoughts that have me nodding and smiling at the complexity of her wit:
On separating teenagers: “The next year, we were put in separate sewing classes, the theory being that separately we were inert substances, volatile only when mixed.”
On dance clubs: “When I was younger, I loved scenes like this, but unless you’re energetic and in full mating mode, what’s the point of standing around in a noisy, smoky room for even five minutes?“
On smaller-town conservatism: “The sexual revolution hadn’t really hit Ferrous by then, where it was the 1950s until the 1970s and then it was 1962 for about five years.“
“It was the blue hour, the hour after the sun sets and the sky begins to darken. There was just enough light left to illuminate the deep color of the sky and give the air around me a grainy texture and a blue tinge. The windows seemed milky and people on the street were starting to darken into silhouettes.”
“I realize that the longest love affair I’ve ever had in my life is with this goddamned city and its goddamned citizens. When I first came here, I was infatuated. The Madness. I took a chance based on an illusion. But beneath that false love was the seed of a genuine love, true love. Now what I have for New York is like married love, kind of a warts (cooties)-and-all thing.“
“I’ve decided that I don’t want to get in touch with my inner grown-up–she’s a drag–but instead want to get in touch with my inner old woman.“
The Inner Goodness
This is good stuff; interesting characters, engaging setting, clever writing, a bit madcap without descending into absurdity. The plotting is unusual, as Robin relieves memories that impact the current mystery. The meandering may go over better with readers who are character focused, used to time-shifting and/or genre bending. I admire what Hayter has done, even if the plot doesn’t always feel like it maintains momentum. Still, it is tied so beautifully together at the end that I was left impressed. I recommend it, for fans of the female investigators, the semi-absurd and girlfriends everywhere.
Helpful instructions for your very own cootie catcher (or fortune teller) here: http://www.thetoymaker.com/Toypages/16Cootiecatcher/16COOTIECATCHER.html)