Review: Shot in Detroit by Patricia Abbott

Shot in Detroit by Patricia Abbott is a riveting novel of psychological suspense that reveals the darkness that lies within the human heart, nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

You could say Violet Hart is a troubled woman, but it would be more accurate to say that she is “messed up” in that crazy way that gets less and less interesting the older a woman gets. And Violet is getting older. 

Nearing 40 and unable to achieve escape velocity from a dying city, she sees her photography career on a downward trajectory from “on the verge of” to “never was.” And so, desperate to freshen up her portfolio, she ventures out to Detroit’s Belle Isle one early morning, when the only other people about are prostitutes and drug dealers—people Violet feels comfortable around.

She knows the abandoned waterside park will provide her some great pictures—“ruin porn” is all the rage—and she’s busy capturing those stark images when a couple of cops show up to hassle her, unwilling to believe that she could be at the location for any benign purpose. Violet doesn’t expect to be accosted, but she can deal with it, pointing out people in the park who need police attention much more than she does.

What she really doesn’t expect, however, is to be lectured for her indifference to the misery she’s chronicling or for the cops to see her as the problem. 

I did feel sorry for the people in the park, she thinks defensively.

Who didn’t? But they’d been part of the landscape in Detroit for as long as I could remember. For decades before the Canadian geese arrived. Had it ever been any different? You’d have to go back to the fifties to find prosperity and that was long before my birth. And as easily as that, Violet discards any misgivings she might have and starts down a dark path.

In Shot in Detroit, her second novel, Patricia Abbott keeps the focus narrow and pointed as her laser-sharp observations reveal Violet’s increasing disconnection from normal behavior in the pursuit of her “art.” Violet is not a “nice” person, and it’s to Abbott’s considerable credit that she makes her accessible at all.

But then, that’s something of a stock in trade for Abbott, whose award-winning short stories are elegant gems of plot and character so tightly written that they have no spare verbiage at all. In Shot in Detroit, she crafts her characters out of bone and blood and gristle, and not a word is wasted. She also uses atmosphere masterfully, and we understand—without her hitting us over the head with it—that Violet is the personification of the city where she lives: a derelict ghost town filled with rust and racial violence. Violet is exploiting the very ruin she sees all around her, and at a certain point—even before she realizes it—she has become complicit in her own destruction.

Violet has accomplices—perhaps “enablers” is the better word—but in the end she will have no one but herself to blame for what follows her impulsive decision to immortalize a murder victim as if he were just another interesting part of an apocalyptic landscape to be photographed, admired, and then … forgotten.

No one will forget the victims on these pages, and that’s all down to Abbott.


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Katherine Tomlinson is a former reporter who prefers making things up. She was editor of Astonishing Adventures Magazine and the publisher of Dark Valentine Magazine. She edited the charity anthology Nightfalls. Her dark fiction has appeared in Shotgun HoneyA Twist of NoirLuna Station Quarterly, and Eaten Alive, as well as anthologies, including Weird NoirPulp Ink 2Alt-DeadAlt-Zombie, and the upcoming Grimm Futures, which she also edited. Her most recent collection of short stories is Suicide Blonde. She sees way too many movies.

Read all posts by Katherine Tomlinson for Criminal Element.


  1. Patricia Abbott

    Thanks so much for the extremely thoughtful and insightful review. So kind of you.

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