Having now become a pretty confirmed fan of Norman Green’s novels, I figured I’d try out his series character, Alessandra “Al” Martillo. As you know, I’m no big fan of hard-boiled female detectives, but I took a flyer on The Last Gig, the first book in the series.
I’ll give author Green credit for facing honestly some of the inherent problems of the female action protagonist. “Al,” he informs us along the way, is a sort of genetic anomaly – a throwback to more ancient humanity. She’s stronger than most women and a lot of men, and she heals at an astonishing rate.
She’s also – of course – gorgeous. But she’s as emotionally maladjusted as she’s physically exceptional. Raised by an indifferent aunt after her mother’s suicide, and then taken in by a sympathetic gay uncle, she keeps to herself and pushes off every man who shows interest. She’s got a chip on her shoulder for the whole world – especially her distant father, whose only contribution to her upbringing was to teach her to fight.
She works for peanuts for a sleazy private eye, who keeps trying to get into her pants. She can handle him, and she needs the work.
Then her boss gets approached by “Mickey” Caughlan, an Irish-American gangster who has (he claims) gone straight. Somebody has been smuggling drug components in Caughlan’s trucks, and he wants to find out who.
As Al investigates, she grows curious about a part of Caughlan’s story that may or may not be related to the crime. Caughlan had a son who was murdered, and he seems oddly unconcerned about it. Supposedly it’s because the boy wanted to be a musician, a career choice Caughlan opposed. But Al thinks there’s more to it.
So she jumps into the case with both feet. She will deliver beat-downs and receive them, and be challenged to move outside her personal comfort zone. Very dangerous people will threaten her, but Al is the most dangerous character in the city.
I didn’t love this book as much as the previous Green books I read. It wasn’t a bad book, but I didn’t identify with Al as I did with other Green protagonists, and I didn’t find here the fine passages of writing I’ve so enjoyed in the other books. A small public service announcement for gay marriage was included in the plot, but there was nothing really unfair there.
I’d probably go on with the series, if the later books were cheaper, but for now I’ll hold off. Moderately recommended, with cautions for language, sexual situations, and mature themes.