The Bactra Review: Occasional and eclectic book reviews by Cosma Shalizi   102

Maximum Insecurity

A Matty Madrid Mystery

by P. J. Grady

New York: Avocet Press, 1999
This is an invocation of the usual PI formula, now over seventy years old --- seedy underside of society, etc., lone crusader for justice struggling to stay afloat, etc., shocking, shocking corruption in high places, etc., etc. (At what point does a pattern like this stop being a genre and start being folklore?) The principal distinguishing marks of this specimen are the absence of anguished stoicism over the injustice of the world, local color for Santa Fe and environs (accurate, so far as a recent arrival can tell), and (almost part of the formula by now) a female PI, the eponymous Matty Madrid. Matty's a reasonably engaging character, even though she has very poor taste in men (the plot revolves around drug-dealing at the state pen, where her ex-husband resides) and an embarrassing tendency to formulate aphorisms no more profound than your typical condolence card on somewhat bizarre pretexts. (I will never look at pouring honey into a sopapilla the same way again.) Much more distracting than Matty's aphorisms is a sub-plot about a millenarian cult which looks and feels like a transplant from a different novel. Other than that, the writing was pleasant and the story interesting enough to suck up an afternoon; and it was Grady's first novel. Recommended for mystery fans who like either slightly non-formulaic private investigator stories or have a special interest in northern New Mexico; I'll probably read her next novel myself.
200 pp.
Mysteries / North America
Currently in print as a paperback, ISBN 0-9661072-6-8, US$12.95.
5 November 1999