Who will take the Literary Lunchbox Edgar for Best First Novel by an American Author? We’ve had some very interesting books nominated this year, and the final nominee is very worthy: Lola, by Melissa Scrivner Love.
This may be Love’s first published novel, but she’s been around the block a time or two when it comes to fiction. She’s an Edgar-award nominated screenwriter who has written for TV (cop shows!), and she comes by her interest in crime fiction honestly, as she is the daughter of a police officer father and court stenographer mother.
The book is definitely cinematic – I could see it as a TV series, easily. A crime thriller, it is obviously the first in a series. The protagonist is Lola Vazquez, a young woman who grew up rough and hungry in South LA, pimped out as a young girl by her junkie mother, fiercely protective of her younger brother Hector, and live-in girlfriend of Garcia, the leader of a small gang, the Crenshaw Six. She mixes with the neighborhood women, jokes about her bad cooking and insists upon a clean kitchen, but what they don’t know is that Lola’s the true leader of the Crenshaw Six. She’s got the brains and the grit to do what needs to be done – even if it’s killing a fellow gang member or sawing through her own brother’s trigger finger to punish him for misbehavior.
When the Crenshaw Six gets its big break – a gang high up in the hierarchy of gangs gives them the opportunity to rip off an upcoming drug deal in exchange for control of more territory – it comes with a price. Do it and be rewarded. Fail, and Lola, who is considered to be Garcia’s property, will be killed. It should be no surprise that things do not go smoothly, there are multiple double-crosses, and Lola’s beloved Hector screws up, big time.
As Lola and the guys work to find the drugs and the money, the plot takes some labyrinthine turns. New characters are introduced, including an up-from-the-projects drug lord who loves his mama and thinks that kidnapping Lola’s is going to motivate her to do his bidding; a rival dealer with a love of sushi who is the first kingpin to learn that Lola’s not the girlfriend, she’s the boss (but he has her beaten to a pulp anyway, with some regret); and a married, WASPy, Starbucks-loving, Snugli-toting couple that import drugs through their beauty supply company. There’s almost too many twists and turns, but Love keeps it all straight, keeping the plot moving while the clock is ticking to one horrific deadline after another.
At the end of the day, the body count is high, but Lola has a new partnership and has earned the allegiance of some former foes. In the #metoo era, it’s definitely empowering to see a female protagonist who not only fights back, but takes the offensive. (I had the same feeling during Wonder Woman – everybody discounts her, but she prevails!)
Lola is terrifically well-presented and other characters are well-written and generally three-dimensional. The dialogue crackles, pacing is excellent, and the plot is satisfying. I’d like to read the next one and definitely want to see it on the screen (hope that Netflix and Amazon are checking it out!).
It’s a tough call about where to put Lola on the Lit Lunchbox ranking. With all it has going for it, Lola‘s definitely in the running for the top spot. Ultimately, the comparison between Lola and She Rides Shotgun simply comes down to emotional impact. Lola has shocks and thrills. She Rides Shotgun has heart. My call? She Rides Shotgun keeps the top spot. We’ll see come April 26 whether the MWA agrees with me!
Literary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best First Novel