Mercenary

As I have said before, reading Murder-a-Go-Go’s indirectly led me to Spotify, which led me to rediscovering the magic of the Go-Go’s again after many years, and then led me on to rediscovering other 80’s music I loved, like the Cars and, just Friday, Josie Cotton. Josie Cotton is probably best known for her her cover of the Go-Go’s “Johnny Are You Queer?” (which could never be released or recorded today, but at the time was kind of in-your-face and cool) as well as fronting the band playing the prom at the end of the terrific teen movie Valley Girl (which also should have been a much bigger hit than it was; but calling it Valley Girl was an attempt to cash-in on Moon Zappa’s novelty hit “Valley Girl”, but the movie was actually so much better than that; it was one of my favorite teen movies of the 1980’s and also starred a very young and beautiful Nicolas Cage in what may have been his first starring role). I was listening to two of her albums Friday night and yesterday (Convertible Music and From the Hip) and marveling that she wasn’t a bigger star than she was; she certainly had fun, upbeat music with lyrics that bit down hard, and she also had a terrific sense of personal style that should have caught on in the age of Cyndi Lauper and Madonna.

Go figure.

Which leads me to the next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, Bryon Quertermous’ “Mercenary.”

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“They asked for my dental records,” Lodi Meyers said, “so they can identify my body if he kills me.”

Andre Taylor sat across from her at a diner on the outskirts of downtown Detroit. “You really want to talk about this now? With me?”

“I don’t have any other options,” she said, tears giving way to an angry flush across her cheeks. “They’re putting together this moronic safety plan for me while insisting there’s not enough evidence to keep him in prison.”

Andre flexed the fingers of his beefy, gnarled hands and picked up his coffee cup without taking a drink. The bleached white of the cup contrasted with the dark black skin of his hands, which were shaking enough to splash a bit of the freshly poured coffee onto the table.

“I’m really not the person you should be talking to about this.”

Lodi reached her hand across the table and clutched Andre’s wrist. “That’s exactly why we’re talking.”

Andre put his coffee cup down and stood up. “This was a mistake.”

Lodi grabbed his wrist again, this time more aggressively. “There’s a reason you showed up even though this is a terrible idea. You want to make sure I haven’t told any- one what you did.”

Bryon Quertermous has published two novels–Murder Boy and Riot Load–which are kind of hard to classify. They’re noir and hard-boiled, but there’s a twisted, slightly demented sense of humor about them that reminds me of Victor Gischler’s work (which you should also read).

“Mercenary” is a terrific tale, built around two people–a woman and a man–who are tied together by the weirdest connection (saying anything more would be spoilerish); she’s a former pain clinic manager and he’s a bail bondsman. Her husband is about to be released on bail–and plans to kill her. The rest of the tale, as she tries to convince the bail bondsman to help save her life, plays out as we find out more about their connection, why the husband is in jail, and see just how far Lodi is willing to go to protect herself and her daughter–who is in a coma. There’s a lot here, and Quertermous tells his story sparingly and carefully, with fewer words than most would have used, and yet I can’t help but feel there’s even more to be mined here; this easily could have been a novel. Instead, it’s an enormously satisfying dark tale with a sardonic sense of humor that was quite fun to read.

Crazy for You

Wednesday morning, and I am awake ridiculously early. I actually woke up just before four, but stayed in bed until six–at which point I got out of bed and figured might as well be productive instead of just laying here staring at the alarm clock. It’s also my long day at the office, but c’est la vie. It is what it is. If anything, I should sleep really well tonight, at the very least.

I didn’t read any short stories yesterday, alas, as I spent most of my weekend reading Karen McManus’ One of Us Is Lying, a huge phenomenal bestselling young adult novel that’s being adapted as a TV mini-series, a la Thirteen Reasons Why.

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Bronwyn

Monday, September 24, 2:55 pm.

A sex tape. A pregnancy scare. Two cheating scandals. And that’s just this week’s update. If all you knew of Bayview High was Simon Kelleher’s gossip app, you’d wonder how anyone found time to go to class.

“Old news, Bronwyn,” says a voice over my shoulder. “Wait till you see tomorrow’s post.”

Damn. I hate getting caught reading About That, especially by its creator. I lower my phone and slam my locker shut. “Whose lives are you ruining next, Simon?”

Simon falls into step beside me as I move against the flow of students heading for the exit. “It’s a public service,” he says with a dismissive wave. “You tutor Reggie Crawley, don’t you? Wouldn’t you rather know he has a camera in his bedroom?”

Well, that’s a start, isn’t it?

The book is sort of a Breakfast Club turned on its ear;  if one of the student archetypes from that film had died during detention and all the other kids in there had a reason to want him dead. It’s a clever idea (one I am kicking myself for not thinking of myself), and the story is, above all else, compulsively readable. The book is told in shifting first person point of view; we get inside the heads and see the viewpoint of all four of the kids who are now suspects, which isn’t an easy thing to do McManus not only takes us there, but by seeing their lives through their eyes–their families, their relationships with friends, their ambitions and goals and so forth–we as readers begin to care about them, which makes knowing that one (or more) of them might be a killer even more problematic for the reader because you become emotionally vested.

Like The Breakfast Club, McManus takes the typical student stereotypes–the brain, the jock, the criminal, the beauty, and the outcast–and turns them on their ears.

In the 1980’s, the teen movie was reinvented and made much more real, more relatable, and more fun than what those that had come before. Serious films about teens were usually told from the point of view of the adults (The Blackboard Jungle, Up the Down Staircase) with an occasional exception, like Rebel Without a Cause. The 60’s saw the teen movie evolve into beach and surfing movies, and of course the Disney films like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and Now You See Him Now You Don’t–silly comedies that viewed teen life as though it were something frozen in time from the 1950’s (and even that wasn’t particularly realistic–malt shops, sock hops, etc) But beginning with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the teen films of the 1980’s evolved into something different, something else, and John Hughes was one of the driving factors of that with his films, like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, among others (those are the Molly Ringwald trilogy, probably the most famous and best-remembered). In all honesty–and don’t come for me–I never thought The Breakfast Club was that great of a movie; sure, the actors were appealing, there were some great scenes, some funny moments–but the most, to me, honest part of the movie was when they were sitting around talking and Claire said they wouldn’t be friends at school on Monday because that’s what I had  been thinking all along. 

But One of Us Is Lying completely subverts that and turns it  on its head; as it does with a lot of other y/a book tropes, and again, the story moves very well. As someone who has read a lot of crime (and all of Agatha Christie) I was able to figure out who the killer was early on; but most teenagers I suspect would be completely caught unawares.

I really enjoyed this and couldn’t put it down because I wanted to find out what happened to the characters, and I cared about them; and it even ends with a John Hughes moment, which was nice.