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by Ann Aptaker
Bold Strokes Books, October 2018
282 pages
ISBN: 1635551536

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In many ways, FLESH AND GOLD is noir fiction. Set mostly in 1952 Havana, it features criminals of every description, with a particular focus on those involved in the flesh trade. The protagonist, Cantor Gold, is as tough a world-weary womanizer as you'll find, sipping scotch and offering cynical comments on the world. The twist is that Gold is not a detective or private eye but an art thief, and not male but female. An unabashed Lesbian, dressed in linen suits and fedora, she is determined to find and free her kidnapped lady love.

The novel is colorful and fast-paced, with evocative descriptions of 1952 Havana and its seamy underworld. Aptaker builds suspense well and the plot contains a number of unexpected twists. Some are gripping, like the scene where Gold is forced to compete in a nude knife fight before an eager but eerily silent top-tier audience. Others, like the novel's final reversal, feel a tad contrived.

This is the fourth in Aptaker's Cantor Gold Crime series – and the central character is certainly engaging, largely due to the contrast between her hard-nosed manner and soft heart, her criminal life and lofty goal. It's actually easy to forget she is a woman, given her dress, manner and lively interest in the female sex. The fact that she is a lesbian in an era when this was more than frowned upon – and doesn't give a damn what anyone thinks – adds a piquant historical dimension.

It is a quick, absorbing read. The era and old-style genre are engaging. The central theme is also pertinent and disturbing, for Gold's quest brings the reader up close and personal with human trafficking and the dark world of enforced prostitution.

However, the plot is not entirely satisfying. As Gold plunges into this underground world, she meets one gangster after another, each more corrupt than the last; it becomes hard for the reader to keep track. There are too many descriptions of décor and dress, too many shots of Chivas and pointed guns. The end is murky, the resolution (if there is one) unclear. Gold's quest may continue in the next book in the series, but it is a pity this one did not end more conclusively.

§ Meg Westley is a writer and retired educator living in Stratford, Ontario.

Reviewed by Meg Westley, October 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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