Jessica Speart’s twist on the police procedural format is to focus on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through a tart noir lens. Her books follow the exploits of Special Agent Rachel Porter who always gets her men – the lovers (who she usually loses again) and the baddies who are not very nice to animals and either kill or smuggle them illegally. Porter’s feistiness and quest for justice at all costs is perceived as an attitude and disobedience problem by her superiors so as soon as she solves a case, through a madcap sequence of rule bending, stakeouts, chases, double dealing and hot dates, she starts the next in a new location, usually further down the attractiveness stakes.
Black Delta Night finds her relocated to west Tennessee trying to crack down on illegal poaching by Southern rednecks who view the law as something that applies to other folk. Stumbling accidentally on a freezer full of Delta Gold – caviar from the endangered Mississippi River paddlefish – she persuades her reluctant boss to let her go undercover posing as a dirty agent. It soon transpires that ignorant rednecks are the least of her problems as the trade is controlled by the ruthless Russian mafia whose boss has an Elvis obsession. Luckily for Porter, her old boss Hickok and her transvestite, best friend Terri have also moved to Memphis, and are soon joined by her regular old flame Jake Santou, and she stumbles to the inevitable conclusion.
Woody nodded and threw me a wink. “I call all of my wives Tammy. That way I don’t screw up their names when I’m in the throes of passion.”
He was apparently feeling a little frisky right now; spittle had formed at the corner of his lips.
“Why Woody, you’re frothing at the mouth. I hope it’s not anything contagious.”
Woody’s smirk collapsed into an uncertain scowl. “What is that nasty remark supposed to mean?”
“I heard a bunch of rabid coons were trucked into the area, and you know how I worry about you. I’d hate to think one had snuck up and given you a love bite. Then I’d have to decide whether to get you some shots or just shoot you.”
Speart’s books are light, frothy, humorous, engaging and whip along at a nice, quick pace. Her characters often drift toward caricatures, but they are meant to, and the plot has enough twists and turns to make it not an entirely predictable journey. The wildlife angle is a good one, with enough potential scenarios that Porter should never be short of an interesting case. Black Delta Night is a solid enough addition to the series and an entertaining filler for a wet afternoon.
I’d be interested to hear suggestions about either:
a) novels that focus on other agencies involved in crime detection beyond the usual suspects (e.g., the police, FBI)
b) other writers using the tart noir style (I’ve mostly read Lauren Henderson, Katy Munger, Jessica Speart, Stella Duffy and Janet Evanovich)
Tartcity describes tart noir genre thus: "Tart. It's a potent four-letter word. Sweet, sour, sharp, sexy, bad, with a touch of cheesecake. It seemed to sum up the detectives in our segment of the crime fiction genre, the independent-minded female sleuths who are tough enough to take on thugs and corrupt cops, tender enough to be moved by tough, tender men (or women, as the case may be). These are neofeminist women, half Philip Marlowe, half femme-fatale, who make their own rules, who think it's entirely possible to save the world while wearing a drop-dead dress and four-inch heels. "