[Nora Watts works for a small investigation company in a rough part of Vancouver]
For the past three years I’ve been living beneath the firm for free in order to save a down payment for a place of my own. But my bosses don’t know that. They think it’s just a basement with old records and a broom closet…Sometimes they comment on my Corolla, always parked in the back lot, but they don’t know it’s mine. They assume it belongs to the… guy down the hall….
My unfortunate office wardrobe [consists] of two pairs of frayed jeans and three ancient oversize cardigans that cover the holes in my T-shirts.
[Later Nora is doing surveillance, and spots someone else watching the same house]
I pass him with [her dog] Whisper and, after an initial glance in which he has inventoried my features and strands of dark hair creeping out from beneath my hoodie, he dismisses me. I am clearly not a threat, nor whomever he is looking out for, so he returns his attention to the house.
It doesn’t bother me that he has seen my face because he’ll never remember what I look like come morning. If pressed, he might say ‘maybe native, average height, skinny.’ If he was going to be mean about it, he’d add: ‘flat chest, no sense of style, ugly dog.’
commentary: I came across this book via blogfriend and author Sarah Ward (see her books on the blog here) – she reviewed Eyes Like Mine over at Crimepieces and I was immediately sold on the idea, especially as it is set in British Columbia in Canada, an area I know somewhat.
This is a debut novel, the first of a planned series, and features Nora Watts as a life survivor, getting over a terrible backhistory and trying to make her way in the world, or at least keep afloat. The book starts with an instant and very winning setup: Watts is consulted about a missing girl, and quickly realizes that the lost young woman is her own daughter, given up for adoption 15 years before. After that I couldn’t put it down: I so wanted to know what was going on here, and so hoped Nora would be able to find Bonnie.
The plot is complicated, and full of surprises, so can’t say too much about what’s happening. It is quite violent at times, and Nora herself is not the most likeable person. She is violent, dishonest and untrusting, but also strangely endearing. Mind you, there is one thing she does in the book that is probably the most shocking non-violent moment I have ever read… I kept thinking about it afterwards and shaking my head. That scene concerns a semi-friend she has:
We sigh, almost in unison. I remember the time when we were just silent alcoholics, without weapons and dangerous bathroom encounters between us.The publicity describes the book as being ‘as dark and gripping as the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’. I suppose that will sell a lot more copies – it would be no recommendation to me (can’t tell you how much I hated GWTDT) and I think there is no comparison, and I would never be in any doubt that this book was written by a woman, and Dragon’s Tattoo by a man. That said, this is NOT a book for the faint-hearted – there are some very gruesome scenes. But it takes a clear line on its violence and morals.
And actually it is very funny and entertaining, in the same way Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone books are (although a lot bleaker).
At one point Nora is mistaken for a new cleaner at a fancy skiing resort:
The man frowns. ‘They usually hire younger with bigger…’ He trails off, then looks to the lady behind the counter for support.This is a very accomplished and confident debut. There were a few weird jerky transitions between scenes, where I was checking to see if I’d missed something - I think an editor could have asked a few questions, suggested that the author add a few bridging sentences here and there. But overall the book is a knockout. I most certainly will be reading the next in the series.
‘Tits?’ she ventures.
‘Hair?’ offers the other man.
‘Both?’ I say, when it’s my turn… The man shuffles his feet and mutters something inaudible.
The picture, from Wikimedia Commons, was taken on the streets of Vancouver by the Blackbird (Jay Black) - Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0,