Many of us in the crime fiction community have been looking forward to a novel from Patricia Abbott. Her short work has appeared in anthologies and various short story sites for the past several years. It reads like a throwback to the domestic suspense writers of the fifties like Margaret Millar but with a modern psychology. She proves to be able to apply this in a long format with her debut novel, Concrete Angel.
Abbott kicks things off with the line, “When I was twelve, my mother shot a soda-pop salesman she’d known less than eight hours…”
The first four chapters take place during the mid-Seventies. Eve convinces her young daughter, Christine, to take the rap for the murder of a soda-pop salesman, and the two convince the law and others of their story. We then go back to Eve’s life, starting with her upbringing by two simple Christian parents, who were somewhat removed. Eve exhibits manic behavior but remains undiagnosed. She is bent on hoarding, and that soon leads to stealing. We see how she meets Christine’s father, a well-to-do printing magnate; we see their marriage, Christine’s birth, and the crime that leads to their divorce. After separating from her husband, Eve turns to new economic strategies, bringing men home for one-night stands and then cleaning out their wallets in the morning.
The book is told from Christine’s point of view. This includes events that occur before she is born, where Abbott shows her agility with voice. Christine describes events through a prism, relating what little she knows about her mother. It allows us to follow Eve, a character most of us would have trouble being around for ten minutes in real life. It also takes us into the relationship of the two, hinged on a daughter’s desire for attention from a mother who can rarely take the spotlight away from herself. A relationship that comes to a head when Eve has another child and becomes involved with a potentially dangerous man.
The writing always keeps us involved. We’re grabbed with the inciting incident, then given the history that lead to it and how it created our narrator. Christine is a believable character forged by unbelievable circumstances, confused by her situation and struggling to discover herself and find love, but smart enough to handle the most trying of circumstances. Like James M. Cain, Abbott shows how a crime at first bonds its perpetrators. then corrodes that union.
Concrete Angel is the most dynamic mother-daughter relationship since Mildred Pierce. It is told with a style and point of view rarely seen in a debut. Patricia Abbott confirms what many of us already knew about her talent. Here’s hoping many more will find out soon.
You can find copies of Concrete Angel on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.