Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Review: Kent's latest heroine stomps Dallas bad guys

Review of: The Dime
Author: Kathleen Kent
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Source: Purchase, Barnes and Noble
Grade: A

It’s not every author whose first book out of the chute can score New York Times bestseller status, as Texan Kathleen Kent did with her fictionalized account of a distant ancestor hanged during the Salem witch trials. But after a string of award-winning books of historical fiction, Kent has turned to a modern version of her trademark “ferocious women” with her newest novel, The Dime, starring the police detective she first launched as the heroine of a short story in the crime anthology Dallas Noir – Detective Betty Rhyzyk.

Not sure how to pronounce her name? Just call her "Riz". 

She isn't thrilled to relocate from her home in Brooklyn to Dallas, Texas. But when her domestic partner Jackie returns to Big D to be near her aging mother, Betty’s not about to give up the love of her life by staying behind. She’s bested the toughest criminals and most sexist fellow police officers in New York. How much worse can Texas dish out?

Well, there’s the blatant bigotry over her sexual orientation, shared both by Jackie’s family members and the law enforcement officials of Betty’s new department. And the incessant heat, “a monster wrapped around my head, all bristling mirrored scales, sliding tongues of sweat into my ears and down my neck.” And the vicious turf battles between Mexican and biker drug cartels.  

Still it isn’t until one sunny Texas Sunday that things really fall apart. It starts when a perfectly ordinary drug stakeout goes south, leaving three dead, including another cop, and one of her own team wounded, a “bat-shit-weird sequence of connecting circumstances (that) oozes into the world seemingly from an alternative universe. . . so dangerous you don’t even want to think about it.”

Little does Betty know there’s far, far worse to come, as Kent takes her readers on a ride wilder than any bucking bull, following the trail of a gang of drug dealers who scatter the body parts of their murdered victims across the Lone Star State. Although Kent’s language is still as gorgeous as anything in her historical fiction, after The Dime, she makes every other mystery seem like a cozy.

Fortunately, Betty can call upon years of law enforcement experience in the Big Apple to call upon for help. Not to mention her ever-present medallion of St. Michael, patron saint of police, and the wisdom of her Uncle Benny, wise in the ways of “Reaping the Grim,” as he termed his exorcism of the angst and rage that can eat the souls of those who witness the effects of bloody violence in the course of their duties.

A Texas native who spent decades working in New York, Kent demonstrates her knowledge of both NYC and all things bizarrely Texan: living in the city that killed JFK. Or lining up for tacos at a gas station turned zoo.

But is it only in Rhyzyk’s universe that Civil War re-enactors battle drug dealers with 19th-century muskets and cannon? Or that a professional rodeo rider turns cop. Or drug dealers quote scripture to justify murder and mayhem? It's all in a day's work for Detective Betty.

Kent's fast-paced writing reaches a climax satisfying enough for a stand-alone novel, including a delightful explanation of its title. Luckily for readers in love with Detective Betty, she leaves enough threads hanging to justify the hope we'll see more of her indomitable heroine.

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