The Polka Dot Girl by Darragh McManus
|The Polka Dot Girl by Darragh McManus|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A good film noir detective story with a twist: it's blokeless… but does it make any difference?|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 343||Date: January 2013|
|External links: Author's website|
Police Detective Eugenie Auf der Maur is called in to investigate the murder of Madeleine Greenhill, the daughter of the wealthy socialite Misericordiae. The more she looks into it, the less it seems an open and shut case. In fact it opens a Pandora's Box that shakes Hera City to its core, not to mention its ability to agitate Eugenie's core a little too. The fact is that somebody wants her dead.
Darragh McManus has a wonderfully pronounced sense of quirk. We discovered this in his first paper-published novel Even Flow, a novel combining excitement and humour whilst examining the rights and wrongs of vigilantism. This time he takes us to Hera City, a place of no men.
I spent the first quarter of the novel looking for clues as to where the men were. Had there been an apocalypse? Would search-engine-ing each reference tell me anything? It did. I learnt a lot, but not where the blokes were. As my desperation was causing a lack of concentration in other areas of my life (I can obsess with the best of them!) I did something to save others from the same fate: I asked and the author graciously put me out of my misery. Basically Google won't help; there are no clues. Hera is a woman-only city with no explanation as to its matriarchal status; it just is. After all the discussions in the media about the lack of meaty dramatic roles for women, he thought a meaty dramatic novel featuring an all-female cast seemed a logical step and hopes that we can buy into it, unquestioningly, being carried away by the story as we would a fantasy novel. So how does the story stand up?
It is indeed an almost traditional detective story in the Chandler/Hammett mould including the brand-necessary clichés. However at least one of the characters is wryly aware of this as she admits to us in just one of the ripples of subtle humour veining the pages. (Eugenie's surname is another example.) The tension cranks up as our hero discovers she can't trust anyone and even we start suspecting peripheral characters as the paranoia becomes contagious.
As a detective story I loved it but on the page it doesn't feel that different from the double-gender story. In some cases the names and genders are feminine but their roles are masculine, e.g. the big beefy fighter. Perhaps this says more about my years of societal conditioning than it does the writing? Although on the screen (and it is very photogenic, screaming 'action film') the visual impact would make a huge difference.
Where intimacy is concerned, the author argues that in Hera City there's no homosexuality as heterosexuality doesn't exist, there being no men, leaving homosexuality as the only option. I would suggest that, as the word homosexuality means same gender canoodling (picky as well as obsessing!) it does exist but the plot is so enveloping this becomes a side issue. There is lady love, by the way, and it's tastefully done with mental pictures that shut the bedroom door after them.
Overall the experiment would make Raymond Chandler's ghost proud due to the quality of the writing and the essence of the story itself. Even though it only loses half a star as a result, where the concept is concerned, I wasn't able to just accept Hera City. Even in a fantasy novel we're provided with hints and clues to join dots even if a full explanation is lacking. As good as it is this is a rare case of a novel that would be embellished positively by a prequel. Darragh is currently writing a YA novel grounded in Celtic myths, but perhaps when he's finished that he may be persuaded?
If you enjoyed this then you'll love Even Flow. If you've already read it and fancy another detective crime novel with a difference we can also heartily recommend Harry Lipkin, Private Eye: The Oldest Detective in the World by Barry Fantoni.
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