Queenpin by Megan Abbott

Queenpin is the story of a young woman, who remains unnamed throughout, plucked from a two-bit nightclub where she’s cooking the books for a pair of half-wits and placed under the wing of the powerful Gloria Denton, a big player in the world of organized crime. Under Gloria, our narrator develops into a student of the game by dressing the part, living the part and finding the confidence she never knew she had. However, as the old saying goes, nothing gold can stay. She falls in love with a hapless gambler named Vic who threatens to completely upset the apple cart.

I firmly believe Megan Abbott is a time traveler. This book could have easily been written in the 40s at the height of the genre – it’s like a puzzle piece that fits perfectly into the picture that writers like Chandler and Hammett were assembling at the time. While Abbott uses all the common noir tropes, the story feels fresh and dangerous rather than recycled. I think a lot has to do with the genre flip – think Double Indemnity but with an infinitely more dangerous target.

I think what initially drew me to noir was the dialogue. Back then if you weren’t lying, you were giving someone the hard truth. Characters were less likely to meander around the point and more likely to spit out lines like they were in a hurry using a bottomless well of wit and snark. That said, Abbott is a student of the game and it shows in spades. My eyes danced along the pages, trying to keep up with Queenpin’s contemptible cast.

While Megan has been having a wealth of success with her foray into modern, young-woman noir, I’d love to see her return to this time and setting for another go-around. Abbott is one of my favorite authors working today and I’m looking forward to seeing her at Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto.


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