Every morning a young woman studies accounting at the Dolores Grey Business School, in the afternoons she cooks the books at Club Tee-Hee, a rinky-dink joint on the Starlite Strip owned by the mob. She soon attracts the attentions of the legendary Gloria Denton, the city’s chief moll, responsible for collecting the takings from the casinos, racetracks, and betting parlours, paying off the local law, and organising scams and take-downs. With the legs and figure of a twenty year old showgirl, but a poker face that’s now starting to show her age, Denton offers the young woman an apprenticeship, starting her off as a runner and educating her as to the ways of the world and the criminal underworld. The young woman takes to her new life like a duck to water, but despite her own misgivings she falls for a charming loser, and everything starts to fall apart. She’s suckered into a big money scheme, betraying Denton’s trust but at the same time binding them together in order to repair the damage and stave off retribution. Soon they are circling round each other, both unsure of where each other stands but determined to survive.
Abbott’s writing is in the best traditions of noir – dark, edgy, atmospheric, lyrical. The prose is excellent, the narrative taut, and the dialogue snappy. Queenpin is essentially an in-depth character study of two women and their evolving relationship, and Abbott excels at bringing both women fully to life and one is drawn fully into their worlds. My only quibble is that the book really fails to broaden out beyond the master and apprentice relationship to further contextualise them in the world in which they operate; it would have been good to know more about the nitty-gritty of their jobs, the grip of the mob on the city, the local politics and law, their personal histories, and so on (and hence a four star review; The Foreign Correspondent I reviewed on Monday was excellent at siting an in-depth character study in wider social and political contexts at multiple scales). Like Lucarelli’s The Damned Season I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, Abbott has pared the book back as about as far as it can go without losing the essential plot. As a result, the book is quite slight at 180 pages and I wanted more – much more - there and then! This is writing to savour and I didn’t want it to end. This is the first Megan Abbott book I’ve read and I’m looking forward to reading the others post-haste.