After he left, I sat in the car and looked and my hands. There was blood there no one else could see. A lot of it was mine.
I’d made sure Lane never suffered any of the things I had as a child. Or at least I had until I’d left. She’d been innocent. Maybe too much so.
“Lane, what have you done?” I started the car and put my hands on the wheel. I had a bad feeling in order to save Lane I was going to have to face the past I’d tried to forget.
Neliza Drew’s debut is an unflinching tale of three sisters, who grew up raising each other while they dealt with their mother’s mental illness, and the one who took it all upon herself to ensure that her siblings survived.
That’s Davis Groves. Tattooed, with scars inside and out, and armed with brutal experience, an unfazeable demeanor, and a wicked sense of humor, she escaped her family long ago but is dragged back home when her youngest sister Lane is accused of murder and her mother Charley is her only guardian.
To protect her sister, Davis inserts herself back into the family insanity. Charley’s disease isn’t storybook mental illness, but the kind you only learn about from dealing with the homeless or working in institutions. Violence, delusions, and breaks from reality, a long life of self-medication and self-destruction. She’s not committed because Davis and her sisters would have become wards of the state and torn apart. Davis covered for her and raised her sisters herself. And, she still can’t take care of herself.
She’s never had any practice. It makes Davis perfect as an unflappable investigator for her sleazy Florida lawyer and mentor, Tom—a retired cop turned P.I. who sends work her way and helps her with the law. The story kicks off immediately and sends our hard-bitten heroine into the fray. Her mother hates her, and her jailed sister Lane is shell-shocked into silence, so Davis uses her contacts back in FL and her smarts to sniff around and see why Laney was found covered in blood and holding the murder weapon next to the body of her boyfriend.
When a hand touched down on my right shoulder, my instincts kicked in.
I dropped the peanuts, put my left hand on his and spun, pulling him off balance onto the floor with his arm locked up, my foot ready to stomp the back of his neck.
The baby EMT yelped, dropped the hotdog he’d been holding and landed on it.
“Oh shit!” I pulled him back to his feet and reached for some napkins, even though the mustard-stained tee shirt was obviously a lost cause.
“What the…” He looked down at his shirt, at the hotdog, and up at me. “Craig said you were a little stressed. He didn’t mention you were a damn ninja.”
Drew spins a tight mystery yarn without hitting the expected tropes. The story can be funny and heartbreaking, but never loses track of telling a good story with believable action and romantic excitement. Davis’s old prom date, Craig, is now an EMT—perfect for a heroine who gets into a lot of scrapes—and they bond over old times, old enough now to share secrets they couldn’t bear to speak of when they were teenagers. The author obviously knows people and kids very well, and the infuriating, unreachable adolescents are accurate depictions of how kids react to growing up in tough environments, where weakness and caring are magnets for cruelty.
A shadow on the wall of the hallway arrived before he did.
I stepped back toward the window, gun in hand, purse slung across my chest like a too-tight messenger bag where I could hold the contents steady with my free arm.
“Police. Got a call about a burglar.”
Something about the voice was off.
“Be a shame if I had to shoot you. Probably should just come out with your hands up.”
I turned, smacked the window lock with the butt of the gun and shoved the window up.
A man in jeans and a flannel shirt took a Weaver stance in the doorway.
The action scenes fly, written by someone with a martial arts background who knows how to write fights accurately without making them tedious and boring. And, the twisted tale Davis unravels of slimy coastal corruption is told as only a local could tell it. There’s a hint of Hiaasen and Dorsey in here, but without their off-kilter view of the world. The characters are people we can care about—their stories are the ones hiding behind the masks kids use in juvenile detention and those of adults watching their American dreams crumble like sand castles in the surf.
A great read from a new author. Here’s hoping for a lot more Davis Groves.
Copyright © 2016 Neliza Drew.
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Thomas Pluck is the author of the World War II action thriller Blade of Dishonor, Steel Heart: 10 Tales of Crime and Suspense, and Hot Rod Heart: A Noir Novelette. He is also the editor of the anthology Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT and hosts Noir at the Bar in Manhattan. His work has appeared in The Utne Reader, PANK Magazine, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Hardboiled, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Crimespree, and numerous anthologies, including Dark City Lights, edited by Lawrence Block. You can find him online and on Twitter as @thomaspluck.
Read all of Thomas Pluck's articles for Criminal Element.