By the time we reach Little Mexico, firecrackers and rockets are shattering the late afternoon air, spooking dogs into a chorus of frightened yelps. We begin at the church. A procession of people is snaking slowly around the square following a horse drawn cart. A phalanx of altar boys carry a statue of the Virgin Mary on a small flower-draped platform. People are throwing roses into the street. “That’s so the Virgin doesn’t have to walk on the hard pavement,” Frank explains while rolling his eyes at me and laughing. A pale yellow sun lights the dusty air. Rockets are exploding, and a brass band is playing music that sounds more German than Mexican.
[later] It takes two or three apologies cum explanations to persuade him that I’m not a total flake before he agrees to meet me at Sabrosa, a Mexican restaurant in East Kenilworth. The walls are covered with tiny milagros and large colorful masks. Tin framed mirrors sparkle in the candlelight. The waiter seats us in a booth next to a small alcove displaying the smiling ceramic skeleton of a pregnant female dressed in a brightly painted clay skirt and sunbonnet. She is holding a ruffled parasol in her bony hand. I can’t help but think that this is an ominous portent of April Gomez’ future, which I have just linked to my own.
observations: This is one of the many books I first heard of over at Col’s Criminal Library – you can read his review here. I think it’s right on the cusp where our tastes overlap – a good honest American crime story, with a great female lead and an unusual setup.
The action takes place in a small town in California, Kenilworth, and protagonist Dot Meyerhoff has just been taken on by the Police Department as a psychologist: her job is to look after the mental welfare of the policemen. But it’s not going well – the Ben of the title has been a problematic patient, and now he has committed suicide, leaving a note blaming her.
But is there more to this than meets the eye? Well of course – this is a crime novel. It’s an intriguing problem and I liked following the twists and turns of the investigation. It stayed on the right side of believable, and although there are some bad people and some violence in the story, it didn’t get too gruesome for me. You would guess that Kirschman really knows her stuff: there’s a lot of very interesting background info in the book, and she gives some useful resources at the end.
Dot is a maddening character – she does some ridiculous things – she says herself she does crazy things, and another character says “You piss people off, you know that? I bet that’s why somebody broke into your house.”
But the book is also very funny. I liked this, when she’s been talking to a young police recruit:
“I’ve been asking all the questions, Manny. Do you have any questions for me?”And when she has to supply some clinical notes as part of an investigation, she is embarrassed that she has a shopping list scribbled in the margins. (I empathized: as a young reporter something very similar happened to me, in court.)
“Just one,” he says, turning to a framed black and white photograph of Sigmund Freud that Mark had given me when I finished grad school. “The guy in the picture? Is that your husband?”
I discovered a phrase I had never heard of: a young woman says ‘I was knocking boots with a bunch of guys.’ Yes, you can guess what it means.
All in all this was a good read, with a very involving plot, and I hope this is the start of a series about Dot Meyerhoff. And thanks again to Col for the tipoff.
The pictures are of a Mexican church, and of Mexican folk art. There was a similar picture for a Day of the Dead entry on the blog: