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by Ivy Pochoda
Ecco, May 2020
352 pages
ISBN: 0062656384

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

These women: they're disposable. They're the crazies, the prostitutes, the people who you don't really listen to, or if you do, you don't believe what they say because these women, they live fast, they take risks, they go off the deep end, and when some john kills one of them, well, what do you expect? It happens.

Ivy Pochoda's novel about these women gives us their distinct and memorable voices, starting with Feelia in 1999, telling an unresponsive hospital roommate about the night she got her throat cut when she wasn't even working, all because she was enjoying the evening, thinking about how nice the South Central neighborhood was compared to her childhood home, Little Rock. Not on her guard.

Then we meet Dorian in 2014, a white woman who'd married a black man, running a fried fish shop while keeping an eye on the women who work the streets, wanting to keep them safe. Her own daughter had been murdered, the last victim in a string of unsolved killings in the 1990s. Now, someone is leaving dead hummingbirds at her shop, so many she has collected two shoeboxes full, a cryptic message of fragile, dead beauty. A message to the police she's one of those women, imagining things.

She holds conversations in her head with another mother who lost a child, one who is on the news clamoring for justice after the police officers who killed him were acquitted, gathering a storm of public rage and grief that hangs in the air like the ash and smoke from the fires burning in the hills above the city. Yet Dorian is the only one who senses the murders of women in the neighborhood have started again. Something made her daughter's killer stop fifteen years ago. But when one of the women who stops regularly by Dorian's restaurant has her throat slit, she fears it's happening again.

Julianna, who goes by Jujubee when she's working, is another of this Greek chorus of angry, grieving women. She was once a little girl, looked after by Dorian's daughter, but now she's working in a bar with a back room, just one step up from streets where girls get killed. She lives with her phone in her hand. The women around her assume she's taking selfies, but it's a ruse to take photos of her world and the women who live there. She only realizes, after seeing promotional banners for a museum exhibit, that what she does with her phone is art that has the power to show the beauty and terror of a world most people overlook.

Another story belongs to her neighbor, Marella, a white girl who creates performance art about violence against women's bodies, violence she personally craves, and another belongs to Essie, a detective who was bounced from homicide to vice after being involved in a fatal accident, one covered up by fellow police that still derailed her career. As a prank, Feelia is sent to her desk to report, as she so often does, that some white woman is stalking her, a story nobody believes until Essie listens and begins to put things together. It may sound challenging to keep all of these women straight, but they are drawn with such skill they are not only distinct, they are powerful and unforgettable.

THESE WOMEN is a brilliant and ambitious novel that weaves together strands of the zeitgeist burning hillsides, internet-fueled protests against police violence, and women's #metoo anger erupting after being ignored and silenced. It's an artful meditation about the relationship of art and violence and how we are bound together by slender threads of fear and love. It's a solid and engrossing mystery that has all the required elements: strong characters, a vivid sense of place, growing tension, all heightened by giving these women such memorable, indelible voices. It's the kind of crime fiction that sees in everyday violence larger crimes and demands more than simple justice.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, February 2020

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