REVIEW: The Chelsea Girl Murders – Sparkle Hayter

2000 paperback cover

2000 paperback cover

Robin Hudson, now Programming Head for the Worldwide Women’s Network, begins this fifth of her adventures when a fire forces her to leave her New York apartment block and take refuge in the Chelsea Hotel, at an apartment belonging to her friend Tamayo, who is currently out of the country. Robin has not long returned from a world trip for work where she has caused offence to several people (through ignorance), as well as met someone with whom she might have fallen in love, and is having to play politics at work, as usual. The first night she has to share the apartment with a girl called Nadia, another friend of Tamayo’s, who is surly and suspicious, and admits only that she is running from an arranged marriage in her homeland to flee with her boyfriend. By the end of the next day, Nadia has disappeared, her boyfriend ‘Rocky’ has turned up wanting to find Nadia, and a man has been shot outside the apartment door.

Realistically, since this is the fifth Robin Hudson mystery, the New York police are by now fed up of encountering her in homicide cases, and are convinced that she had something to do with the shooting – they’re less inclined to treat Nadia’s disappearance seriously. Complicating the mix of surreal characters, is Maggie, who lives next door to Tamayo but who once dated a former boyfriend of Robin’s – Robin tries to keep this a deadly secret throughout the book since Maggie is known to be extremely vengeful – Rocky, who is annoying and entitled, Miriam Grundy, a well-known patron of the arts, and others.

This is an entertaining novel, peopled with interesting and oddball characters, and which sets up nicely farcical situations before resolving them satisfactorily. There’s a fabulous bit, for example, which involves a bunch of nuns handcuffed together trying to escape from a minibus… This extract from near the beginning of the novel gives an example of the tone:

“You have a curse on your head?” NYPD detective Barry Burns asked me, not making any effort to suppress his smirk.

Burns, a portly black man with a very wrinkled forehead, had asked what my connection was to the dead guy, and I’d had to explain that I had no known connection beyond some curse that had me stumbling over murder victims about once a year, though this was a new one—it had stumbled on me this time, and while I was inconveniently holding a firearm. He then wanted to know about the previous victims, making a lot of notes and looking at me with narrowed eyes of suspicion.

Burns turned to a uniformed cop and said, “Get me the arrest record on this woman, PLEASE.”

(p36, paperback edition)

Robin’s an entertaining narrator, a realistic and humorous forty-something woman who has a career and isn’t afraid to be a feminist. While you could start reading these books with this novel, many of the cast of characters are recurring ones (Mrs Ramirez, for example, and Louis Levin), and Robin has developed and changed over the books in which she appears.

Hayter plays fair with the reader by relaying all the information which Robin has, and despite the jokey tone and often ridiculous situations, she does make some serious points about women’s rights and freedoms (and there’s some interesting information about the Chelsea Hotel, too).

Robin’s detective adventures are chronicled in What’s A Girl Gotta Do? (1994); Nice Girls Finish Last (1996); Revenge of the Cootie Girls (1997); The Last Manly Man (1998); The Chelsea Girl Murders (2000); and Last Girl Standing (2005), and are recommended if you like humorous crime novels with a dash of realism.

Published by: No Exit Press (2000)

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This entry was posted in 2013 New Reads, Crime fiction, Feminism, Fiction, Humour, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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