Crew Member: SuzJay
From the author of Come Closer and the Claire DeWitt series comes a highly acclaimed–and unusual–gritty thriller about a missing girl… and the addict tasked with saving her.
Josephine, a former addict, is offered a thousand dollars to find a suburban couple’s missing daughter. But the search will take her into the dark underbelly of New York she thought she’d escaped–and a web of deceit that threatens to destroy her.
Title: Dope| Author: Sara Gran | Publisher: Penguin Books | Pub. Date: February 2, 2006| Pages: 243 | ISBN: 978-1-440-68476-0 | Genre: Mystery/Thriller | Language: English | Starred Review: YES | Source: Library Loan
Last fall I was blown away by Sara Gran’s tale of possession, Come Closer, so I was stoked to check out her other works. Dope isn’t a horror novel, rather it’s a mystery with elements of the thriller and crime genres. The characters are gritty, as is the 1950 New York setting.
Josephine Flannigan has been clean for two years, but staying off of dope is a minute by minute, second by second battle. She scrapes out a living by stealing and enjoys the company and free meals her charismatic con artist boyfriend provides. When she scores a paying gig to find a lawyer’s daughter who was last seen hanging out with a drug dealer from Josephine’s past, she jumps at the opportunity to make some easy money. Instead of taking the cash and running, Josephine uses her network of pimps, prostitutes, and drug addicts to follow the ever-cooling trail, which gets her on the wrong side another group of people from her past—the police.
Sara Gran creates multi-faceted characters that skate the line between light and darkness. Josephine is a criminal, but there’s a reason her former associates are genuinely happy that she’s gotten clean. She cares about them and they, in turn, care about her—from the guy who got her hooked on drugs to the father figure who taught her the art of the con. She easily navigates New York’s underbelly using her chutzpah, empathy, and the wad of cash from her client. Not only is she smart and savvy, she’s tough and respected. A low life who wronged her is genuinely frightened of her and eager to make amends. Her ability to work a con gives her the skills to get information from the white picket fence crowd as well as the darkness dwellers.
Multiple times in the story, Josephine has the opportunity to use drugs, yet she struggles to stay clean. Dope is an ever-present shadow waiting for a weak moment to drag her back into the world of addiction. The missing girl had all the opportunities denied to Josephine. Rescuing Nadine from life as an addict quickly becomes a personal mission and a roundabout way to make amends to the people Josephine wasn’t able to save, including the neglected little girl she used to be.
Gran delivers the twists and turns that thriller readers adore, as well as plenty of clues and red herrings that make mysteries so much fun. The settings get seedier as the story progresses, showing Nadine’s descent into addiction. While the 1950’s timeframe creates a black and white movie atmosphere, the historical details are minimal, allowing for the story to move at a brisk pace.
Josephine is an ideal noir protagonist. Despite being clean, she can’t escape a life of crime, which keeps her locked into a life that involves constantly interacting with other criminals and junkies. Dope is a dark, addictive read.
Lilyn G is the founder of Sci-Fi & Scary, and leader of the Coolthulhu Crew. She does book and film reviews for both genres the site focuses on. Her tastes run towards creature features, hard science fiction, and lots and lots of action. She also has a soft spot for middle-grade fiction that rears its head frequently.
Though no longer involved with Ladies of Horror Fiction due to other responsibilities and a too-full plate, she was one of the original 4 co-founders.
Feel free to chat her up on Twitter as long as you aren’t hitting her up to review your book.