It’s about a month until the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards banquet on April 26, so that gives me a few weeks to read (or re-read) the five nominees. Of the group, I’ve already read Bluebird Bluebird and The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, but reading to review and rank is not the same as reading for fun… it takes a more careful reading and a critical eye. So I’ll be reading them again; I do recall liking them both.
I’ll admit I had a little bit of a heavy heart when I saw that Philip Kerr’s Prussian Blue was up for the Edgar… it’s over 500 pages long and (gulp) historical. Never my favorite. And I said so in 2016, when The Lady from Zagreb was nominated (see more here) and in 2012, when his Field Gray was up for the award (ditto). All three books feature WWII era spy Bernie Gunther. I didn’t pick Kerr to win in 2012 or 2016, and sure enough, he didn’t. So I’m going to build up to him slowly, and pick off the shorter books first!
That being said, first up is Kathleen Kent’s The Dime. Dallas PD’s Betty Rhyzyk’s not your typical drug squad detective – she’s a transplanted Brooklyn cop, a tall, red-haired Polish lesbian. She and her team are about to arrest a cocaine distributor and his supplier when a woman shows up, upset that her neighbor left his dog in his car on a hot day. She calls the cops, an officer shows up, Betty and her partner stand by hoping it gets resolved quickly, when the supplier shows up. The distributor dies, the cop dies, the Samaritan dies, one of Betty’s team is injured, and Ruiz gets away. The one good thing? Betty’s partner Seth adopts the dog.
The homicide squad takes over, but Betty and her guys keep working the case, determined to run Ruiz to ground and salvage the drug bust. They chase down Ruiz’s girlfriend, Lana Yu, and the next thing we know, Lana’s dead, throat cut and her ears cut off, and a the stripe of dyed red in her head of black hair is gone as well. When Lana’s missing hank of hair turns up in Betty’s bed while her partner, Jackie, lies there sleeping, it starts to look like Betty is being targeted. When Ruiz’s head is delivered to Betty’s apartment in a box, it’s confirmed. And when Betty and Hoskins, one of the team, are lured out of town, where Ruiz’s headless body has been found, it’s shocking but not surprising that Hoskins is killed and Betty kidnapped. A crazy, religion-obsessed woman lives with her two criminal sons, and she wants Betty to bear her a grandchild. Betty’s held captive for over a week until she finally makes a violent escape.
The Dime is a competent police procedural. Betty has a solid backstory, and Kent does a good job of showing it in the first few chapters. The relationship between Betty and the men she works with rings true, although perhaps a little too supportive; it’s hard to imagine that Texas cops are all that welcoming to New York lesbians. She has a solid, loving relationship with her partner, and a little expected friction with Jackie’s family. The best thing about the book is Betty’s voice. Told in the first person, she comes across as grounded and no-nonsense.
As the first one reviewed, The Dime takes top billing in the Literary Lunchbox ranking. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that it will stay there – when compared to other Edgar-award winners such as Mr. Mercedes, Ordinary Grace, The Last Child, or Gone, it’s just not special enough to make the cut. Let’s see!
Literary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best Novel
- The Dime by Kathleen Kent