Ever since the digital age has made e-publishing and indie publishing incredibly easy it seems that everybody has written a book. The problem with that is that a great many of those books range from the merely tedious to the down-right dreadful. Consequently it is a joy to find an indie e-book that is well-written, well-done, and compulsively readable. Such a book is Maureen Gill's January Moon. Gill is from Chicago and she writes with the plain-spoken authority of mid-westerners, a style which suits the subject matter of this detective story perfectly.
The story starts out with a bang. A truck-driver rescues an obviously ill, very young girl from a truck stop where she is being hit on by a group of young guys. The trucker, a decent, middle-aged guy gets her into his truck but soon realizes she is very, very ill – she dies in his truck and, after a panicked call to his wife, the girl is taken to a medical examiner where it is discovered she was the victim of female genital mutilation (FMG), a horrible practice which excises most of the victims' external genitals. I was familiar with the practice from reading Alice Walker's Possessing The Secret of Joy and the pain and suffering women “cut” in this way live with for the rest of their lives is unimaginable. But this young woman was a white girl living in the American mid-west not Africa. How could such a thing happen to her?
From this dramatic and fascinating beginning Gill embarks on a roller coaster ride of bizarre, but believable, personalities from the good guys, including a likeable detective named Del Carter and a hard-boiled but incredibly seductive cop named Fred Wiley, to the bad guys, all of them under the control of the baddest of the bad guys, “guys” being questionable since Rae Harte is a steroid-driven man-woman who is a living, breathing hate machine – but a very, very smart one. Rae, it turns out, is the power behind the throne of a charismatic, lunatic preacher and leader of a cult where the lost, disenfranchised, and deluded live in a barracks-like compound away from the eyes of the world. Strange things are going on in there and, though the FBI has managed to infiltrate the group, things are not going all that well.
There are several sub-plots which support the story well. Del is engaged to Jess and their romance, while a little too perfect at times, adds some tender relief from the tension of the story. More tantalizing and ultimately heart-breaking is Wiley's love for Eliot, a woman who loved him but rejected him thirty years earlier for reasons of her own which, when they are revealed, make your skin crawl. But Wiley never stopped loving her and, as the end of the story alludes to, never will.
There is also a small group of disorganized, unfocused would-be terrorists and a whole collection of supporting characters ranging from the sublime (a dog named Wolf) to the ridiculous (a cop named Eggs). One of my favorite scenes takes place in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a fascinating place anyway, and Gill has such an ear for dialect that she writes “Youpper” perfectly.
In addition to the excellent characters, tight plot, and beautifully written dialog, Gill has sprinkled in no shortage of homages to Chicago area cuisine. Her descriptions of meals were a little too good at times – I had to put the book down and go to the kitchen.
Gill's writing style is quick, spare, and hard-boiled. I personally like stories with a wide variety of characters and a strong sense of place. I'm a firm believer that novelists have a responsibility to create a world and suck the reader in to it and Gill does that very well. The novel is constructed with chapters written from several points of view, a style that I appreciate because I know how hard it is to do that well. The climax is exciting and it leaves you looking forward to the next book from a talented writer.
I'm always happy to report on a well-written, well-crafted independently published novel. January Moon is all of that and more. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed.
Thanks for reading.