Queenpin by Megan Abbott

Summary: A young woman, hired to keep the books at a down-at-the-heels nightclub, is taken under the wing of the infamous Gloria Denton, a mob luminary who reigned during the Golden Era of Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano. Before she knows it, she’s ushered into a glittering demimonde of late-night casinos, racetracks, betting parlors, inside heists, and big, big money.

Commentary: I’m going to start this review by saying that I have little to no experience with noir (both film and books), crime fiction, gangster fiction, etc. etc. I picked up Abbott’s book here because I so enjoyed her most recent novel, Dare Me, which is both very different (high school setting) and very similar (power plays and relationships between women). I think I might have ended up liking Queenpin even more though! It was gripping, and gritty, and kind of sucked me into a world that I hadn’t really ever experienced before.

Our nameless heroine is chosen by the infamous Gloria Denton to enter a world completely different from her lower-middle-class, secretarial and accounting background. She’s immediately thrust into the world of gambling parlors, smooth-talking men, high fashion, and money money money. There’s bosses behind the scenes pulling strings every which way, and our narrator is just a bit player in a much larger game–and she knows it. One wrong step and your body is buried in a trash heap somewhere, dumped in a river, or covered with a nice layer of lime. That doesn’t mean she isn’t just as drunk on her new life and the new clothes and the seductive nature of danger and walking on the wrong side of the law.

The relationship between Gloria and our never-named protagonist is really the best part about Queenpin though. Gloria, a take-no-shit woman who knows exactly how to play with the big boys, takes on this starry-eyed new protege. This protege starts learning though, and the relationships starts splintering. The anxiety rises and there is the possibility of betrayal around every corner.

I really enjoyed the sort of old-time noir film… vernacular? There was slang in there that I’d never heard, but Abbott made it flow so smoothly and naturally, and I could hear that slow drawl in my head as I read the words on the page. It definitely immersed me into the world of Queenpin, and was just really fun and dramatic to read.

It was also interesting to me that her novel features two women as the main characters, in a genre that historically focuses on the trenchcoated lone white male walking the dark streets of the city, wearing a cool hat and smoking a cigar, maybe trailed and reluctantly seduced by a lovely femme fatale.

This Publisher’s Weekly review sums it up pretty well I think: “Abbott delivers a sharp, slender, hardboiled tale of a protégé’s schooling by a notorious, been-there-done-that moll… Abbott is pitch-perfect throughout: Gloria Denton, still turning heads in her 40s, is as hard a moll as any, and the kid is a beautiful combination of foil and tool as she strives to emulate her role model. The collision, violent and inevitable, rips away the facade of glitz and glamour, and leaves their low-end edifice starkly exposed.”

Author Website: http://www.meganabbott.com/