MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: SUNSET CITY by Melissa Ginsburg

Melissa Ginsburg joins us here at BookPeople on Saturday, April 30th, at 3 PM, to speak and sign her debut Houston-set noir, Sunset City. You can find copies of Sunset City on our shelves or via bookpeople.com starting April 12th, or pre-order now! All BookPeople events are free and open to the public. 

  • Review by Molly Odintz

9780062429704At the start of Sunset CityCharlotte Ford, Houston barista and general slacker, gets a call to have drinks with an old friend, Danielle Reeves. She also gets a pleading visit from Danielle’s mother, desperate to speak with her daughter about a lucrative real estate deal. When Danielle turns up murdered, Charlotte is at the top of the list to be interviewed by the police. While the cops quickly dismiss her as a suspect, Charlotte conducts her own investigation, her loyalty to her childhood friend trumping any sense of personal danger.

With only a debut under her belt, Ginsburg is already establishing herself as a superb feminist crime writer. Sunset City begins, like many a detective novel, with a dead sex worker. Unlike in much of the genre, however, she has a name – Danielle. She is not a hooker, but an adult film star; she is not an excuse for a plot, but the source of the plot itself; she is defined, not by sexual relationships, but through her strong friendships with other women.

Sunset City, in its structure, draws from classic noir and hard-boiled fiction, but in its themes and depictions of behavior, updates the genre for us millenials. Sex, drugs, and marginal employment are not markers of failure, but facts of reality. Characters take their own measure of their value, rather than relying on status for self-worth.

Charlotte Ford works as a barista, despite her education. Danielle Reeves finds the adult film industry lucrative, and her friends choose not to judge or worry over her in such a role. Charlotte engages in casual drug use and steamy sex scenes with many of the characters, male and female. The characters of Sunset City embrace the spectrum of sexuality and stay away from labels. They live their lives spaced out, marginally employed, and ready to vent their frustrations in bed and on the road. They care more about their friendships than their relationships. They spend hours driving the city of Houston, where the boundaries between city and suburb are as murky as the boundary between friend and lover, hobby and addiction, family and foe.

Rarely, a detective novel can combine a tricky, unpredictable and satisfying murder plot with a glimpse at how people live. Without sacrificing the dark tone of her murder plot, Ginsburg perfectly depicts a blase and non-judgmental attitude towards sex, drugs and employment.   As a cheaply-tattooed 26-year-old working at a bookstore in a party town, I endorse this book for all millenials!

Melissa Ginsburg joins us here at BookPeople on Saturday, April 30th, at 3 PM, to speak and sign her debut Houston-set noir, Sunset City. You can find copies of Sunset City on our shelves or via bookpeople.com starting April 12th, or pre-order now! All BookPeople events are free and open to the public. 

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