Shot in Detroit is the story of Violet Hart, a photographer, nearing forty, and eager to find artistic success. Through her relationship with a mortician, she comes up with the idea of photographing young black men who have died in Detroit over a six-month period. The novel takes place entirely in Detroit and its near suburbs. Violet Hart is ambitious, a loner, a pest in getting what she wants. She's an artist in other words.Violet's lover, Bill Fontenel, is a black man who owns a funeral home. He is proud of being a mortician and he cares about preparing the bodies for the funeral. Where appropriate, he dresses the bodies in fine clothing he has found in high-end resale shops. The first young man that Violet photographs is at Bill's request. The family wants a photo sent to them in England because they cannot attend the funeral. In this case the body is dressed in a rugby uniform, per the family's request. This gives Violet the idea of photographing bodies at the mortuary as an art project.
Violet is the center of this story. She has family issues; her father deserted her family and her sister died when she was young. She has trouble making ends meet and wants very much to succeed in artistic photography, although she supports herself with weddings and bar mitzvahs. She is not a very likable person, willing to use people to get what she wants, always pushing her agenda first. Her eventual obsession with getting enough photographs for an exhibition offends many people, and at time drives Bill away from her, although he is her only access to the bodies. He cares about Violet and knows that the project is important to her but cannot truly understand her artistic ambitions.
Violet is the kind of character that the reader shouts at, exhorting her to stop making bad decisions, to go in a different direction. I too cared about Violet and I wanted her life to improve. Even though she is a loner, she has people who care about her. Her close friend Diogenes Cortes is gay, Filipino, and head chef at a Detroit restaurant. He is supportive in many of her ventures, even as he counsels her that she is making mistakes.
While reading this at times I felt uneasy, unsettled. I did not find Violet's desire to photograph corpses a problem; it seemed reasonable to me, under the circumstances. I was bothered by her pushiness, and her willingness to stretch the truth and mislead people. But she was not a bad person, just obsessed with an idea and a goal. But although I sometimes felt creeped out by the subject of this book, I found it a satisfying and compelling read and at no time considered abandoning it. I had to know where Violet was going to end up and how her choices worked for her. And in the end, I loved this book. There is no happy ending tying it all up, but I was happy with the resolution. I loved that she found some answers about her father and why he abandoned her family. It all came together very well for me.
Is this a crime novel? The book is described as a novel of psychological suspense on the back cover, and I think that is a good description. Some of the deaths of the young men in Violet's photographs are accidental, some are murders; but they are not covered in detail. There are two other unrelated murders in this story. Both occur on Belle Isle and both are disturbing, although there is no violence depicted. These deaths lead to Violet's involvement in police investigations. Here again she makes poor choices which lead to her being a "person of interest." But her relationship with the main investigator of these deaths is one of my favorite parts of this book. They develop a friendship of sorts.
The setting of Detroit is important. The author is telling a story about Detroit of 2011 through Violet's odyssey to find artistic success and appreciation. In the acknowledgments at the end of the book, Abbott explains her goals in writing the book.
I will end with the closing lines from Bill Crider's review:
Shot in Detroit has scope and ambition. It's one of those books that will stick with you long after you close the covers. Check it out.See other reviews at: Joe Barone's Blog, Crime Time, and Do Some Damage,
Publisher: Polis Books, June 2016
Length: 302 pages
Format: Trade paperback
Setting: Detroit, Michigan
Genre: Psychological suspense
Source: I purchased my copy.