Sunday, November 23, 2014

What's a Girl Gotta Do? Laugh.

What's a Girl Gotta Do?
Sparkle Hayter
2014 Open Road Media/ 1994 Penguin

reviewed by carol

Before there was Stephanie Plum and Isabel Spellman (a review of mine), there was Robin Hudson. I discovered Robin long before Plum came around, and for those who became disenchanted with Evanovich’s kooky series, there’s a lot more to love here. With her ingenious poison-ivy window defense system and her homemade personal defense system (“I still had two backup systems in my purse, a bottle of cheap spray cologne spiked with cayenne pepper to approximate Mace and a battery-operated Epilady, which I realized after one use was a better offensive weapon than feminine aid“), she’s ready for any eventuality.

Hudson works at a 24-hour news agency, the All News Network (ANN), but has recently been demoted to the Special Reports unit after a series of journalistic mishaps. Her misogynistic boss Jerry Spurdle has assigned her to an undercover sperm bank investigation and has decided to involve himself by acting as her husband.  Unfortunately, while she’s suffering to get back into management’s good graces, she’s also navigating a divorce from her reporter husband after his affair with a younger woman. When a blackmailer threatens her with highly personal information, she isn’t sure who to suspect. She offers to meet the blackmailer at ANN’s annual’ Halloween party and “as one of my New Year’s resolutions was to try and offend fewer people in the next decade and thereby escape from the century with my life. I decided to go as Ginny Foat, a prominent feminist tried for murder and acquitted in 1983.” When the blackmailer is found dead, everyone at ANN is on the suspect list.

New York City plays a enjoyable role as backdrop, with references that have more to do with local culture than landmarks. Hudson lives in a dicey section of the East Village, which justifies her safety-conscious routine: “The sidewalks beneath me were black and buckled and there were little groups of junkies on every corner. There must be a lot of good, cheap smack around, I thought, because the junkies were friendlier than usual.”  Besides having to navigate her physical safety, she has more than her share of misunderstandings with the other tenants, particularly one that is convinced Robin works as a prostitute.

There’s a definite late 80s feel to this one; given that Robin works in television journalism, many of her references and snide remarks reference major news stories and television in general: “I’m only thirty-seven, but that’s a lot in TV years, which are rather like dog years.” I found them amusing, but then again, I was old enough to live through them. In fact, it’s rather interesting reading this again after so many years because it is so period (I think I found the series in the early 90s). Hayter is often coy about her background, but I was able to dig up one interview where she admits her first book was taken from experiences at CNN.

I love Hayter’s writing; the pace snaps along, with a great balance of reflection, dialogue and action. Narrated in first person by Robin, her voice is highly entertaining. Robin is a smart, eccentric and funny woman–just the kind of person I’d love to call a friend: “Because living well is not the best revenge, Bob. The best revenge, in my opinion, is huge crates of Depend undergarments delivered to his apartment door.” 

The mystery is quite clever, with unexpected turns in how it effects Robin. A usual mystery trope is played out quickly, and I found myself surprised at the plotting. Despite quirky characters and events, Hayter is able to bring tension to the plotting, just enough for the reader to not be entirely sure Robin will be safe, elevating it above a madcap adventure. Shoot. My re-read has reminded me how much I enjoy Robin. I’m going to have to make time for my favorite in the series, The Chelsea Girl Murders.

Originally released in 1994, it’s being re-released in ebook in 2014. Although I have this one in hardcover, thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Integrated Media for providing an e-book to review and prompting a re-read of an old favorite.

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