Home > Book Reviews, Writers of Interest > Writers of Interest: Megan Abbott

Writers of Interest: Megan Abbott

I’ve recently discovered an American author by the name of Megan Abbott, whose work goes some way toward hitting the spot that the best work of Raymond Chandler hits. I don’t know quite what it is: something dark, something both hard hitting and slyly reflective. Anyway, The Big Sleep does it. The Long Goodbye does it even better. And Megan Abbott does it in her own way, too.

Abbott has five novels to her credit, as I’ve discovered, and it seems that recently she’s moved away from crime fiction, or at least noir set in 40s and 50s L.A. The other four are all period pieces. In order of publication, they are Die a Little, The Song is You, Queenpin and Bury Me Deep. So far I’ve only read the second and third of these, and it’s the third, Queenpin, that’s the knockout.

I did enjoy reading The Song is You, a tale about ‘Hop’ Hopkins and his search for a missing starlet. It was chock-full of period detail (Abbott is clearly not only extremely well read in the genre, but interested in the history of this period in general), but I felt it to lack something in the way of a killer punch. There was so much period detail, in fact, that I thought it actually bogged the narrative down a touch. Not so in Queenpin. Told from the perspective of a young woman plucked from obscurity by the notorious Gloria Denton, the ‘queenpin’ of the title, the novel has a sledgehammer effect. I read it in about three hours and Abbott didn’t miss a beat throughout. Our narrator has a down-and-out paramour by the name of Vic Riordan (tip of the hat to Chandler there, methinks, with that surname), and increasingly she becomes torn between his rough handling and Gloria’s icy cool. I guess the knockout comes about two-thirds of the way through, but the rest is just as strong too.

So what’s the difference between Queenpin and some of Raymond Chandler’s best novels? In terms of quality, very little. You could say that there are fewer twists and turns here than in Chandler, but that’s neither here nor there. The characterisation, dialogue and settings are just as good. One thing that needs to be said is that Abbott is writing what might be termed ‘feminist noir’, in that she offers strong female leads where in Chandler and those of his era most of the ‘broads’ were just there to be killed and/or fucked. I think I’m right in saying that our heroine is never named, which isn’t to say she lacks definition. But Gloria Denton and Vic Riordan steal the show, as they’re supposed to.

Queenpin won something called the ‘Edgar’ Award, which I’m guessing is a crime fiction prize, so it’s not like it hasn’t received some attention. Still, I wouldn’t have heard of the book or its author if I hadn’t picked up a copy of The Song is You at a discount pile at the front of a local bookstore the other week. Long live the discount pile.  Queenpin is the best novel I’ve read this year, and I’m not just saying that because 2012 is, at the time of this writing, two weeks young.

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  1. January 22, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Sounds great, Guy. I think I’ll be buying Queenpin after your review. The covers are rather cool too. I have only really read Hiaasen and Pelicanos when it comes to crime fiction. Are there any other authors you could recommend?

    • guysalvidge
      January 22, 2012 at 3:06 pm

      I’m fairly new to crime as well, but the obvious one is Raymond Chandler, if you haven’t read him. I just finished reading James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, and I can recommend that if you don’t mind a lurid, fairly ridiculous plot. I just saw a crime novel at Dymocks today that I didn’t end up buying that nevertheless looked interesting – Prime Cut by Alan Carter. This one is published by Fremantle Press and set in Hopetoun.

  2. March 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Edgars are a big deal. I equate them to Hugos or Nebulas to the science fiction crowd. They are, of course, named after Edgar Allen Poe who is often considered to be the inventor of the Detective Fiction genre. That of course being in addition to his horror fiction.

    I read so much regular history, and already have to great of a backlog of non-fiction history, that historical fiction (detective or otherwise) is not something I tend to get too excited about.

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