The Bactra Review: Occasional and eclectic book reviews by Cosma Shalizi 102
A Matty Madrid Mystery
New York: Avocet Press, 1999
This is an invocation of the usual PI formula, now over seventy years old ---
seedy underside of society, etc., lone crusader for justice struggling to stay
afloat, etc., shocking, shocking corruption in high places, etc., etc.
(At what point does a pattern like this stop being a genre and start being
folklore?) The principal distinguishing marks of this specimen are the absence
of anguished stoicism over the injustice of the world, local color for Santa Fe
and environs (accurate, so far as a recent arrival can tell), and (almost part
of the formula by now) a female PI, the eponymous Matty Madrid. Matty's a
reasonably engaging character, even though she has very poor taste in men (the
plot revolves around drug-dealing at the state pen, where her ex-husband
resides) and an embarrassing tendency to formulate aphorisms no more profound
than your typical condolence card on somewhat bizarre pretexts. (I will never
look at pouring honey into a sopapilla the same way again.) Much more
distracting than Matty's aphorisms is a sub-plot about a millenarian cult which
looks and feels like a transplant from a different novel. Other than that, the
writing was pleasant and the story interesting enough to suck up an afternoon;
and it was Grady's first novel. Recommended for mystery fans who like
either slightly non-formulaic private investigator stories or have a special
interest in northern New Mexico; I'll probably read her next novel myself.
Currently in print as a paperback, ISBN 0-9661072-6-8, US$12.95.
5 November 1999