- Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Patricia Abbott’s Shot In Detroit is a book that challenges the reader. Abbott takes on several uncomfortable topics, more interested in their human truth than couching them in a gentle tone. Set in 2011 in a Detroit still reeling from the financial crisis, Shot In Detroit is half murder mystery, half extremely dark comedy. She even comes close to confronting the reader with the very book in their hand.
Even the protagonist can be initially hard to accept for some. Violet Hart struggles from a few bar mitvahs and weddings as a freelance photographer. At 39, she feels the doors closing on her opportunity to be considered an artist. When her lover, Bill Fontanel, a black mortician, asks her to snap some photos of one of his deceased, she becomes obsessed with a gallery idea, pictures of young dead black men. She gets a gallery interested, working Bill to supply the subjects. When she hasn’t filled the number of subjects she needs, a story that was dark to begin with goes pitch black.
Abbott is less interested in making Valentine relate-able than in nailing her complexity. She realizes you need to know her toughness and self involvement as well as the artistic desperation that she captures spot on, that moves her into her colder actions. She creates an interesting reader-heroine relationship, tightening the reader’s bond with Valentine as she spirals deeper and deeper into an abyss of her own creation.
The story covers many hard issues race, class, death and how we deal with it, and art all tangle upon one another, leading toward the issue of appropriation. Valentine’s photo collection mirrors that of many crime fiction writers, often white, who use the lives and deaths of the disenfranchised, often of color, for their work. Abbott looks deeply into this matter, yet turns any true judgment to the reader.
Fans of the fifth season of The Wire or the cult classic Man Bites Dog should enjoy this modern take on the classic quandary of shooting violence on camera. Abbott judges the reader and her protagonist equally for their shared obsession with observing death, and carefully explores the easily-crossed border between documenting suffering and causing it. Shot In Detroit is a book worthy to read and discussed. Patricia Abbott is honest in both subject and emotion. It may be heavy lifting for some, but it is well worth the weight.
You can find copies of Shot in Detroit on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.