By Laurie Rockenbeck
Rachel Howzell Hall’s newest offering, And Now She’s Gone, introduces us to newbie private investigator Grayson Sykes. With her wrinkled clothes and easy distractibility, Gray comes across as a latter-day Colombo. She forgets to record interviews, can’t remember to take antibiotics on time, and finding a working pen is beyond her. In spite of all her fumbling and absent-mindedness, Gray is able to follow individual clues and piece things together in her own, unique way.
To prove Isabel Lincoln is alive and well, her boyfriend, Ian, has hired the investigation firm Gray works for to find her. It’s not long before we learn Ian is more interested in reclaiming the dog Isabel took with her than finding Isabel. His assertions that he’s a “nice guy” make him an obvious and fun-to-loathe character. There are plenty of possible suspects and scenarios that Gray must pick apart to get to the truth. Plenty of twists and turns drive the plot in a fast-paced, mostly thrilling journey.
Hall does a masterful job of rendering how Gray’s history coincides with the case she is working on. At times, Gray is made impotent by her fear from past trauma. It’s apparent that Gray is in emotional limbo, and she has to deal with her baggage before she can truly live in the present. Gray figuring out her own issues while delving into what is really going on with Isabel provides the opportunity for commentary on some heavy social issues—racism, domestic violence, alcoholism, abuse.
Told in a close third-person point of view, we get Gray’s acerbic thoughts rendered in a sarcastic voice. Gray is judgey and quick to point out other people’s hypocrisies. At one point, Gray finds herself in a hipster vegan restaurant after it is well-established Gray is most fond of traditional comfort food. She pushes aside the kale chips in front of her while “[p]atio diners vaped, and massive plumes of their alt-smoke billowed from mouths too sensitive for meat and peanuts.”
Hall’s dark humor prevents the book from falling into preachiness. Early in the story, Isabel sends Gray a text asking Gray to lay off, to let Isabel stay missing. Gray’s response is dark and kind of hilarious:
Not typical for a missing woman to respond with text messages. One didn’t need to be a cop to know that missing women usually communicated via left-behind femurs or ragged finger-nails crammed with the scraped skin of her murderer. Not Isabel Lincoln. She was one of a kind.
Throughout, we get snippets of what it is like to be a black woman in America blended with descriptions of Los Angeles that make us feel like we know the city.
No one ever fell in love on the 10 or said, “Ooh, let’s take the Ten––we have time.” It simply bored you to death with its meth-town Denny’s and Del Tacos, places where colored people dared not pee. Better to risk urinary tract and bladder infections than to pee beneath a Confederate flag next to someone with Aryan Brotherhood tats on his bi-ceps or her stretch-marked boobs. Gray and Nick did all their peeing at Indian Casinos.
In another passage where Ian warns Gray about being in a rough neighborhood, she looks around and sees a few dark-skinned women jogging in Lululemon along clean streets and rolls her eyes at the depiction. Ian does not know rough the way Gray knows rough.
For the most part, the various threads and plot twists are satisfactorily resolved. As in, this book meets expectations of a PI novel—we get a pretty bad-assed PI who solves the case while experiencing LA through some fresh eyes. There are a few things left hanging, one thread in particular that I hope is purposeful and will lead to a second book in a series. While this is reportedly a stand-alone novel, I see potential in Gray’s development as a PI in future works.
The fast-paced read may be too much for some people—once you get going it really is hard to put this book down–– but it makes a satisfying couple of evening’s worth of entertainment. There are a couple of similes that move into groan-worthy territory. For example, saying someone “… wore a Bluetooth earpiece like the commander of the starship Enterprise …” will make most Trekkies roll their eyes. The phrase “…like a virgin at a prison rodeo” sent me on a search for some ritualistic sex practice. But really, it’s easy to forgive these hiccups when weighed against everything else that makes this book such a fun read.
Laurie Rockenbeck was raised a Navy brat and moved around a lot as a kid. She lives near Seattle with her family, two cats, and a dwindling number of chickens. She graduated with a degree in journalism and quickly learned that writing fiction was a lot more fun. With a grandmother who started every story with: this is a true lie…, there is no doubt that story-telling and exaggeration are part of her genetic make-up. Rockenbeck has her private investigation license but prefers writing about made up cases over investigating real ones. Her mystery series features Seattle Police Department’s only trans male homicide detective and a pro dominatrix turned PI. She is pursuing her MFA in Fiction at UC Riverside’s Palm Desert Campus. Visit Laurie at LaurieRockenbeck.com