Rhode Island Red, by Charlotte Carter *****

rhodeislandredNanette Hayes is a musician working the streets of New York. She doesn’t intend to become a sleuth, but when a Caucasian cop follows you home and is murdered in your front hallway, it’s hard not to get involved. And that’s only for starters! This savvy, sassy detective novel, the first in the series, will be released January 27, and you won’t want to miss it! My great thanks go to Net Galley and Open Road Media for the DRC.

I was initially drawn to this series by the cover, which is unusual in that it actually appears the artist knows what is in the book. I was looking for urban and gritty, and at first was taken aback when I got urbane and French instead. I have never been to France and don’t like jazz music, so most of the cultural references weren’t useful to my understanding of the character or her story.

But a good writer can pull in anybody from anywhere, just about, and that’s what happened here. Somewhere between the 20 and 30 percent mark, I felt the pace of the story quicken and deepen, and I was hooked. By the story’s last half, I was making notations so that I would not forget particular bits of linguistic and story-arc genius that showed as Carter’s tale unfolded.

Hayes is artistic, “self-involved, mercurial, emotionally unstable”, and she’s a chronic liar to boot, especially when speaking to her mother. But the tough stuff only runs so deep: her conscience, that smaller inner voice that she has named “Ernestine”, tells her to do the right thing, even when the reader is mentally screaming for her to go with naked self interest. Doing what seems to be right doesn’t always pay off, though, and before she knows it, everything has gone to the dogs.

As the bodies pile up, Carter uses a subtle, muted kind of House-That-Jack-Built method to build tension and focus the reader, repeating questions and issues and sometimes adding one more to what was there before. I have never seen it done quite this way, and it is fiendishly effective. Her use of figurative language is among the strongest in the genre, and all of this caused me to wonder why she was passed over for an Edgar the first time this was released. It must have been poor marketing, because the writing is certainly worthy.

This is about to be re-released January 27. If you enjoy a good mystery story, do yourself a favor and order a copy. Even if it costs you a good night’s sleep, you’ll be glad you did.

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