Megan Abbott's 2007 novel, Queenpin, is a throwback to the hard-boiled, noir mysteries of the pulp fiction heyday. You can practically smell cigarette smoke and whiskey fumes wafting right out of the pages. In the novel, a young woman (our nameless narrator) is recruited by a notorious female mob boss, Gloria Denton, into the dangerous and seedy world of money laundering and illegal betting. Everything is just swell with our narrator and her new job - until she gets distracted by a man, that is. It's a classic rookie mistake and she knows it, but she had no idea how severe the consequences would be for letting down her guard. Gloria quickly introduces our lusty protagonist to a world of cruelty and violence that she never could have imagined. It's a dog-eat-dog world in noir crime fiction, and our anonymous narrator must quickly learn how to hold her own before she finds herself cold and toothless in a shallow grave.
Noir fiction is a quickly-disappearing literary genre, but if anyone can cause a resurgence in popularity it's Megan Abbott. Last year I raved about her most recent book, The End of Everything, and I'm not at all surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It made me want to put on red lipstick, light up a cigarette and rough somebody up. Gloria Denton is sexy, mysterious, and cool, but she's also completely ruthless and merciless - and our narrator can never quite decide if she loves her or hates her. Either way, she is terrified of what Gloria is capable of.
But pretty soon, Gloria's protégé becomes a little more confident in her own abilities, and Queenpin boils down to a question of reluctant loyalty or blatant betrayal. Megan Abbott's writing is well-crafted, creative, and darkly nostalgic. Pulsing with seduction, violence, and suspense, Queenpin should be at the top of the list for fans of nouveau noir.