There’s a lot of chatter about noir these days, but it’s easier to drop the term than to define it, and even harder to recreate a noir novel without seeming quaint or mannered. There’s even a trendy publishing house devoted to reprinting old noir and introducing contemporary neo-noir, and ninety-nine times out of a hundred the older brew has a kick that puts the newer vintage to shame. As far as I’m concerned there are only two authors out there now who can credibly keep up with Chandler, Hammett, Cain and the rest of them on their own turf—James Ellroy and Megan Abbott.
Although Ellroy’s brilliant prose stylings are unmatched by any living writer, in many ways Abbott is more approachable, just as dark and trenchant, but less willfully perverse, able to inhabit the shadows of the past in a way that always seems immediate and only too real.
Following on the heels of her Edgar winning Queenpin, Abbott’s latest book is Bury Me Deep, a brilliant fever dream inspired by the real life “Trunk Murderess,” Winnie Ruth Judd, the central figure in one of the most sensational crimes of the depression era. Abbott’s Judd stand-in is named Marion Seeley, and the reader quickly gets into the skin of a naive young woman conditioned by grinding poverty and a strict fundamentalist upbringing, unmoored by the nightmarish men of her dreams, and possessed by a romantic joie de vivre which will doom her in a grey and unforgiving society. Every detail—the slang, the setting, the clothes—rings perfectly true as this innocent creeps closer and closer to an unthinkable act.
It’s a measure of Abbott’s skill that by the end the crime that has so baffled history seems not only inevitable but even understandable. There’s also a brilliant coda that supplies a much more satisfying conclusion that real life could manage.
It’s not necessary to know anything about Winnie Ruth Judd or even noir to enjoy this book. Anyone with an appreciation for good crime fiction will find more than enough to satisfy in Bury Me Deep. (Jamie)