Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Subversion (J.P. Choquette)

I have a secret. I really like crime fiction, but not always for the crime! Many crime novels are excellent specimens of realistic contemporary fiction; many are steeped in regional or international flavor; many offer superb characterizations and flavorful prose. Without the crime angle, it would be harder for many of these books to draw an audience. I'm not suggesting that the crime and mystery angles are superfluous, exactly, but sometimes they do seem to be secondary.

Case in point: J.P. Choquette's Subversion, a truly enjoyable read that scores points in every one of the categories that I mentioned. It is set in Northwest Vermont, beautiful country (I once lived just across the state in the "Northeast Kingdom"), and captures the small town / rural northern New England atmosphere wonderfully well, in exact language that sometimes comes right up to the verge of the poetic without getting fancypants.

"Fancy" wouldn't suit the narrator, Tayt Waters, a down-to-earth product of her surroundings even though her family (which figures heavily in the book) is fairly upper-crust for the area. Tayt is an interesting study, a determined, gutsy woman of 29 who is trying to be a multiple entrepreneur with her cleaning business, her security company, her unofficial (because she doesn't have a license) private investigator agency, and her shadowy dips into vigilante justice. Lots going on with Tayt!

Her voice is compelling from first page to last, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you will like her. Some will and some won't. I spent the entire book on the edge of being annoyed with her, because she makes many bad decisions (but no bad decisions, no story). When she is sued for one of them, I couldn't help feeling there was some justice in that. And let's not even get into how many laws Tayt Waters breaks during the course of Subversion, because I like to keep my reviews reasonably short.

Tayt naturally feels she is justified in most if not all of those transgressions, but we don't have to follow her on that. There is a feminist avenger angle here that will elicit markedly different reactions. (This is the second mystery I've read in a fortnight that gets into international sex trafficking as a subject, the other being Ace Varkey's The Girl Who Went Missing.)

Subversion is the intended first in a series, and one can feel J.P. Choquette laying the groundwork for future installments - nothing wrong with that. Bits of Tayt's backstory and family history are teased out, but not always all the way. If you are left wanting to know more about her dead brother, it's only natural. Her father, mother, and sister are all interesting personalities, and beyond them there are four friends (Ezra, Judy, C.J., and Winston) who potentially provide plenty of future developments among them.  

I'm on board, and I bet you will be too.

Subversion: A Tayt Waters Mystery

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