Saturday, June 13, 2015

Death Was the Other Woman: Linda L. Richards

Introduction from the dust jacket flap:
As the lawlessness of Prohibition pushes against the desperation of the Depression, there are two ways to make a living in Los Angeles: join the criminals or collar them. Kitty Pangborn has chosen the crime-fighters, becoming secretary to Dexter J. Theroux, one of the hard-drinking, tough-talking PIs who pepper the city's stew. But after Dex takes an assignment from Rita Heppelwaite, the mistress of Harrison Dempsey, one of L.A.'s shadiest—and richest—businessmen, Kitty isn't so sure what side of the law she's on.

Richly satisfying and stylishly gritty, Death Was the Other Woman gives a brand-new twist to the hard-boiled style, revealing that while veteran PIs like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe spent their time slugging scotch and wooing women, it may well have been the Girl Fridays of the world who really cracked the cases.
Quote from Megan Abbott, author of The Song is You and Queenpin:
Sharp, vibrant and crackling. One chapter into Linda L. Richards’ sparkling 1930s Los Angeles mystery, Death Was the Other Woman, and we’d follow her smart, resourceful, spirited heroine, Kitty Pangborn, down any dark alley, any mean street.

I enjoyed this historical mystery with a new approach to the hard-boiled PI story. The protagonist and narrator is not the damaged shamus but his secretary, who has problems of her own.

The story is set in 1931 Los Angeles. Kitty Panghorn was rich and well taken care of in evey way before her father lost his money in the depression. All of a sudden she is alone; her father has taken his life, and she is living with the chauffeur and the housekeeper who had worked for her father for years.

I am not an expert on Los Angeles in the 1930's, but I think Richards got it down pretty well. Kitty lives near Angel's Flight and rides up and down the hill most days to go to and from work. There are lots of details about clothing of the period. She mentions the smell of oil that pervades the air due to the presence of oil derricks.

Kitty describes Rita Hepplewhite's entrance:
She stood framed in the doorway, doing her best damsel-in-distress. Her coat was open, and the dress beneath it was as red and tight as the skin on an apple. Did she practice all that bosom heaving in front of a mirror? I figured she’d have to. If I tried a stunt like that, I’d look like I had just run a block to catch a bus. And the sight of me wouldn’t have caused Dex Theroux’s jaw to go all slack and his eyes to lose focus either. As things were, I wanted to cross the room and slap some sense into him. What kind of client, I wondered, would want to hire a detective who looked at her the way a dog looks at meat?
I didn’t slap him though. Instead I just said, “Let me know if you need anything, Boss.”
I liked the way the story was told and the secondary characters that appeared along the way. The author gives us just enough background on each character but the backstories don't intrude into the mystery plot. This is a whirlwind of story, with plot twists galore.

I am especially fond of strong female characters, and I found Kitty's character to be believable and charming without being cloying. Kitty has had to make the journey from a young lady who had things done for her to a woman who has to take care of herself and consider the needs of others. Her voice and the way she handles herself throughout the story was the best part of the book for me.

Linda L. Richards has lived in Los Angeles and Munich but was born in Vancouver, Canada, and now lives in Canada. She is the founding editor of January Magazine, the online literary review site. The Kitty Pangborn series continues with Death Was in the Picture, and once more in 2013 with Death Was in the Blood. She published an earlier three book series featuring Madeline Carter, set in contemporary times.

Other resources:


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Publisher:   Minotaur Books, 2008
Length:      261 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Kitty Pangborn #1
Setting:      Los Angeles, California
Genre:        Historical Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.


12 comments:

  1. Tracy, first, the cover and title. I liked it. It looks straight out of a 1950s paperback.Second, Kitty Pangborn's character is unusual for a crime fighter. And third, LA as a setting for the crime story.

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    1. I know, Prashant, all of those elements are interesting. I don't know why I have put off reading this book for so long. That is the problem with having too many books.

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  2. This does sound interesting, Tracy - an intriguing new take on the 'hardboiled' PI novel. I like the idea very much. I like the historical aspect too. That period of the Depression/Prohibition in the US was a fascinating time - nice to see it portrayed in a credible way.

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    1. You are right about that period, Margot. I have read more books set between the wars recently and it is a very interesting period to learn about.

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    1. Several reviewers noted that they picked the book based on the cover, Col.

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  4. Love the cover. Sounds really good.

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    1. I think you would like the book, Peggy.

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  5. This sounds good, Tracy K. LOVE that cover! I'm adding the title to my TBR list. I was once a girl friday, yeah, I sometimes felt like I did all the heavy lifting. :)

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    1. I can imagine that was very true, Yvette. I hope you do try this book and let us know what you thought about it.

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  6. I like the sound of this - the concept, the execution, and the clothes. Definitely on the list.

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    1. The book is full of wonderful clothing descriptions, Moira. I have the 2nd book in the series but I might want to try the other series to see how they compare.

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