Review: The Dime by Kathleen Kent
Combining the colorful pyrotechnics of Breaking Bad with the best of the gritty crime genre, The Dime is Kathleen Kent’s brilliant mystery debut and the launch of a sensational new series.
I’ve been a fan of Kathleen Kent since I read her spectacular female-centric Western The Outcasts, so when I heard she had a cop thriller coming out, I was psyched. The Dime certainly didn’t disappoint. It has so many good things going for it. Number one is Betty Rhyzyk, Kent’s singular, 6-foot-tall narcotics cop with blazing red hair. Number two is its Dallas setting, which is where I grew up (and where Kent grew up to, as it happens).
Betty is a Brooklynite through and through, but she moves to Dallas to be closer to her partner Jackie’s family. After all, Betty’s Uncle Benny (who was also a cop and her mentor) is the only family she’s got left, and he’s in hospice care. The move also puts her closer to the many drug cartels that intersect in the great state of Texas, but it’s all in a day’s work for the tough-as-nails cop. Her tough shell cracks just a bit when the first operation she heads up—two years into her stint with Dallas Narcotics—falls apart, leaving a beat cop and a woman walking her dog dead and one of her own team wounded:
A semiautomatic pistol emerges from the driver-side window and a pulse of rapid fire commences. Bender does a jerky dance for an instant before falling, blood spattering like a burst balloon on to the cop standing next to him. The officer, scrabbling for his gun, is hit in the second pulse and falls backward onto the yard.
Seth and I crash into some border shrubs, yelling for the woman to get down, but she’s standing on the walkway, shrieking and clutching her schnauzer to her chest in a terrified grip. The barrel of the semiautomatic does an elegant, minimal sweep, finds her, and drops her in three shots.
It’s not Betty’s fault, but it was her operation, so it’s her mess to clean up. The man her team is looking for, Tomas “El Gitano” (Gypsy) Ruiz, is one of the biggest cocaine suppliers in North Texas. He’s certainly gone to ground after his little drive by, but Betty is determined to get him. It’s not going to be easy, but luckily, she has Jackie, a pediatric radiologist at a children’s hospital, to go home to. It’s Jackie that keeps her grounded after grueling days on the job.
Hoping to track Ruiz down, Betty and her team attempt to question his sometime girlfriend, Lana Yu, but she’s less than helpful. Unfortunately, it becomes a moot point when she’s found with her throat cut—but that’s not all.
There are livid bruises on both upper arms from being restrained by rough hands or maybe from a pair of knees anchoring her to the floor. She’s young, petite, and Asian, wearing a stained T-shirt that reads COWGIRLS RIDE HARD.
“Yes,” I say to Maclin. “It’s Lana Yu.”
I track my gaze back to her face and imagine I can see defiance in the pull of her lips baring strong, frequently whitened teeth and in the half-mast droop of her eyelids.
One of the Forensics guys moves in and with a probing tool carefully lifts a section of her hair away from the side of her face. Her left ear has been severed.
Betty feels like something else is strange, but she can’t put a finger on what it is, only that she knows something is different about her from the last time they talked. Well, besides the fact that she’s dead.
It’s only a bit later that she realizes that a bright red streak in her hair was missing; someone must have cut that piece off and taken it with them. It’s strange, but they don’t have much time to mull it over before another body is found in the back of Lana’s BMW in Weatherford, about 60 miles southwest of Dallas. Betty and her partner, Seth (who’s healing nicely from his gunshot wound), head out and end up enlisting the help of Confederate reenactors (of which the whole concept amuses Betty to no end) after they’re attacked by cartel folks that think the reenactors are hiding a bag full of money. Sound crazy? It sort of is, but … it’s not. There’s even a cannon!
Kent makes it all completely believable, and Betty is an entirely reliable narrator. She’s also unfailingly cool and really funny and self-deprecating when she needs to be. She’s just an all-around badass that more than holds her own with the boys club at the cop shop—with a soft side, of course, that she mainly shows to Jackie. That’s another thing I loved about this book: Betty and Jackie’s relationship. They make love look easy even when they have to deal with casual bigotry (of which there’s plenty, but to be fair, there’s also tolerance and kindness—sometimes from surprising places).
They’ll need this bond because, eventually, the case comes very close to home for Betty. A neighbor receives a really nasty package meant for Betty, and it spirals from there until an extremely harrowing conclusion. I really have only one request of Kent after finishing this one up: more, please!