Montana by Gwen Florio is a debut mystery featuring war correspondent Lola Wicks (available October 25, 2013).
I’m no great fan of prologues. I find they tend to distract more than they add the majority of the time. At any rate, any book whose first chapter starts with a female reporter embedded with rebels in Kabul probably doesn’t need a prologue to get it going.
Of course, Lola doesn’t get to stay in Kabul — something she’s none too happy about. No matter how much importance she places on the story, her bosses back in Baltimore have found war-weary Americans don’t care and would much rather read about celebrity gossip or suburban politics. That, and budgets being what they are, foreign stories are just cheaper to pull off the wires.
“I’d be reporting on school boards,” Lola said. “Zoning hearings. Neighbors pointing lawyers at each other over a foot of property line.” She tossed the paperweight high. I dropped into her palm with a satisfying sting.
“There’ll be some of that. It’s what people care about.”
“Interns cover that shit.”
“We don’t have interns anymore. Haven’t for three or four years now. You’ve been overseas a long time. You don’t even have a smartphone, do you?”
Worse, for Lola anyway, is that she’s being forced to take a few months vacation before she starts her suburban assignment. Anyone else would be thrilled. Lola’s already plotting, even before leaving the editor’s office, how she can spend a few days with her old friend, Mary Alice — establish her cover story as it were — and then head back to Kabul to finish the story on her own. It never occurs to her, when he mentions Mary Alice had tried to sell him a story, that she’d find danger in Montana.
Lola isn’t a woman used to modern conveniences, storage, or trust. Her luggage consists of a small duffel and book bag and her first thoughts upon seeing cases for fly-fishing rods at the airport are that’d be perfect for grenade launchers. She even prefers sleeping with her boots on. And then there’s her allergy to modern forms of payment.
She’d gone straight from the newsroom in Baltimore to a bank and raided what was left of her dwindling retirement account. Part of it went toward a ticket back to Kabul. She asked for ten thousand dollars in hundreds — old ones, with no telltale crackle to make things chancier at checkpoints — and took the brick-like packet immediately into a restroom. With quick, experienced movements, she’d lined the cups of her bra, the soles of her boots, the zippered compartment inside her belt and all the pockets of her cargo pants with cash. She reversed the process at the airport, stashing the money in her backpack with the bank receipt rubber-banded around it just before she went through the body scanner, then found another ladies’ room and transferred it back to its earlier hiding places.
Which means when the story demands traveling to Canada, she’s perfectly prepared for border crossings with a fake passport, but she’s far less prepared for the simple acts of a comfortable modern life.
She had arranged the room as she always did, pulling the bed away from the window and safetypinning the thin drapes closed. She unrolled her sleeping bag atop the bed. After any extended visit to the field, she had a tough time readjusting to a bed’s intimidating expanse, its smooth clean sheets and yielding pillows, preferring instead the comfort of the bag’s close confines.
But it’s not the beds or even Mary Alice’s death that Lola seems to have the most trouble adjusting to...it’s Mary Alice’s animals. Lola isn’t a woman used to attachments. She has no family or friends besides her fraying email relationship with Mary Alice. Her worldly belongings won’t fill the trunk of a small rental car. The idea of a big, sloppy-tongued dog and a horse are a bit beyond her comprehension. They also might be her salvation.
Lola awoke to soft slurping sounds.
A dog sprawled beside her, methodically dragging its tongue between legs splayed wide. Light slivered through an opening in the curtains. Beyond, a slice of jagged skyline. Mountains. The dog detached its face from its nether regions and lept to its feet, tags jingling. Loloa read them again. “Bub.” Mary Alice’s word. Mary Alice’s dog. It was real. Mary Alice was gone.
I won’t tell you about Lola’s attempts to learn horseback riding because much of the book is a touching, but somewhat heavy story of friendship and loss interwoven with the dogged investigative reporting of a woman who knows how to do nothing else. You’ll appreciate the comic relief.
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Neliza Drew is a tofu-eating teacher and erratic reader with a soft spot for crime fiction. She lives in the heat and humidity of southern Florida with three cats and her adorable hubby. She listens to way too much music, writes often, and spends too much time on Twitter (@nelizadrew).
Read all posts by Neliza Drew on Criminal Element.