The time is the early 1950s; the place, New York City. We've been down these mean streets before, but Sara Gran's excursion into the seedy underbelly of the city and the junkies, prostitutes, thieves, and victims that reside in the lower circles of it, reshapes the hardboiled cliches into a rich, subtle brew of character and emotion. It also packs a pistol-whipping wallop when the going gets tough. And tough it gets.
Josephine Flannigan is in her mid-thirties and life isn't getting any easier. But it's never been easy for Josephine, who grew up in Hell's Kitchen and is a recovering heroin addict. Because of Flannigan's struggles with drugs and her familiarity with the underworld, a wealthy couple offers her a job locating their missing drug-addicted daughter. It's the thousand dollars she's paid, not altruism, that motivates Josephine to take the gig.
Soon, Josephine is back on the neon noir streets of her past, interrogating old junkie pals, taxi dancers, and other denizens of the pulp imagination. In lesser hands, this could be one big yawn with its standard-issue dime store plot and post-WWII setting, but Gran wisely enriches the storyline with finely drawn characters and realism. Yet it's Flannigan herself who makes the novel come alive. She's a refreshing voice in a male-dominated genre, and her observations of the city's grinding up of those too weak to do some grinding themselves is heartbreaking and unforgettable. A must-read book all the way to the bitter end.