Near-Noir Period Piece Seeks Editor


DISCLAIMER: At my request, I received this title for free in exchange for a voluntary and unbiased review.

WARNING: This review may contain mild spoilers.

It’s been a minute since I did a review, so as a refresher for everyone, please remember that Standard Caveats Apply!

This novel is an interesting and engaging mystery set in 1942’s Brooklyn, and has all the noir elements, just mixed together differently. You’ve got the antihero, the dame, the MacGuffin, the femme fatale, the city as character, and the murder.

The tone is set almost immediately when we’re introduced to our protagonist Maeve O’Shaughnessy: “When she glanced up she noticed a reflection in the window of a man across the street staring at her. He wore a fedora and had his suit jacket slung over his shoulder. She dropped the coins into her purse and rushed to her office on the next block.”

The following prose is furtive and anxious, building to the introduction of her eventual partner, Vic Marino. Naturally, they hate each other. Maeve’s drafted brothers, and ex-cop Vic had a deal; Vic looks after their detective agency’s interests, along with Maeve and her little brother Jimmy, and the older brothers look after Vic’s drafted brother, who appears to be on spectrum.

Vic is the stereotypical antihero with a code and a victim complex. Maeve is the stubborn, independent wildcat, who is overly petulant. It’s an unusual mix of enough back story to make the main characters feel believable, coupled with a quashed murder investigation that lands in our heroes laps due to a plea from the victim’s mother, active obstruction from police brass and politicians, influence from Irish and Italian gangsters, and a twist at the end that surprised me enough that I re-read several chapters to see if it was foreshadowed. Sure enough, it was! It slipped right past me.

It may seem like too many threads to keep track of, yet they’re introduced in such an organic fashion that the plot expands to contain them without growing out of control. Russo appears to have an effortless and enviable manner to convey a unique noir tone. Unfortunately, there is significant amount of “telling, not showing” interrupting an otherwise well crafted narrative.

I have a love of historical fiction, so I try to take care when commenting. Some historical fiction is squishy; i.e. alternate history (For all Mankind) or historical fantasy (Streets of Fire), and it’s understood, often expected, that liberties will be taken. This work strikes me as a historical fiction of the “Home Timeline” variety, where the characters and actions may be fictional but the time they occur in is accurate.

Here are a couple examples that took me out of the story. First, is reference to FDR’s “Arsenal of Democracy” fireside chat after the attack on Pearl Harbor. That speech occurred almost a year prior, primarily as a response to isolationist sentiments championed by Charles Lindbergh (and yes, I have simplified a very complex series of events for brevity.)

The second, is an offhand reference to cigarette smoking being dangerous to one’s health. Smoking was an integral social convention during this period. It wasn’t until the mid-50’s that public perception become concerned about the link between lung cancer and smoking. I point to cigarette ads from the 40’s and early 50’s that have recommendations from medical doctors as to which brand is best, and the #1 hit of 1947, “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke” by Tex Williams which complains about the cravings and addictive nature of smoking, but also states “… I don’t reckon that it’ll harm your health.”

I believe the content may benefit from the following suggestions:

  1. Consider reducing the amount of historical information to avoid long info dumps and maintain reader engagement.
  2. Integrate historical backstory into the narrative for a more seamless reading experience.
  3. Ensure historical accuracy by fact-checking references to events and social conventions of the time period depicted in the story.
  4. Address repetitive character behaviors (ex. Maeve’s arm crossing) and anachronistic language references to enhance authenticity.
Overall, this effort is solid writing and an engaging mystery, with the slight need of an editorial review to further enhance its quality.

FINAL VERDICT: Recommended ‐ RecommendedRecommendedRecommended