A lot of people have described my writing as hardboiled. Or was it half-baked? It had something to do with cooking and the foreign words they used probably meant “noir” in French. Early on in my writing career someone actually said, “Your writing reminds me of Mickey Spillane.”
“Is that because it’s a good story that’s well told?” I asked.
“No,” they said. “You remind me of him because I can’t stand that bastard either.”
I mention all of this only because I’ve been reading Vicki Hendricks’ hardboiled noir thriller, Miami Purity, and I figured it would be apposite to indicate that I’m familiar with this genre, if not an authority.
Miami Purity has been rightly described as “a modern noir masterpiece.” The story follows the first person narrative of Sherri. Sherri is trying to get her life back together after a spell in prison, the accidental murder of her long time partner, and a history of substance abuse that she wants to put behind her. Working at the dry cleaners – the eponymous Miami Purity – seems like the ideal way to get rid of the dirt from her past and make a clean start.
But Sherri hasn’t anticipated meeting someone like Payne. And, whilst Sherri has enough emotional issues to disturb the sleep of a trained psychiatrist, Payne is an even darker character. By most people’s standards Payne should be a bastion of the community and ideal material for a heroic template. He’s a hard working businessman, takes a personal interest in the company’s finances and the staff’s development, and he loves his mother. However, it’s possible to take all of those beneficial traits to a sinister extreme and Payne does all of that and then some.
One of the repeated failings of contemporary noir is that post-modern cynicism is often overtly represented, masquerading as black humour at the author/reader level – usually above the level of character interaction. Invariably this comes across with the I-narrator making some abstract intertextual reference that is intrusive for readers familiar with noir and too oblique to be relevant for those new to the genre.
Yet Miami Purity has none of these failings. Hendricks’ protagonist has a fresh voice and enthusiasm that flourishes and shines within the bleak world of noir Miami. She is practical enough to realise that life is crap, hopeful enough to believe that change might just be possible, and sufficiently pragmatic to deal with the after-effects when everything starts to fall apart.
Sherri’s healthy appetite for sex, its application hindered by the accidental murder of her previous partner, is foregrounded early on in the story. This incessant libido drives her into the arms and the bed of the story’s disturbed antagonist Payne. The sex in this story – used as a device to provide depth for Sherri, complications for Payne, and a motive for the story’s progression – is harsh, brutal and (usually) satisfying.
It is genuinely refreshing to read a stylish noir thriller that is not trapped in the quagmire of patriarchal hegemony. Admittedly, Sherri could be considered socially oppressed by her occasional lapses back into stripping and easy, casual sex. And her salacious sexual appetite is one of the driving forces that power the plot to its delicious, dark denouement. But Sherri’s resolve to get the job at Miami Purity, her determination to conquer Payne and to forcefully deal with the issues that trouble and threaten their relationship, make her dynamic enough to be a post-modern icon of the feminist femme fatale. Whilst the genre still subscribes to the belief that men are men and women are either dangerous or convenient, Miami Purity brings a fresh approach to this masculine-dominated world of story-telling.Miami Purity is neither a HEA [happy ever after] romance nor is it erotica, even though elements of love and the erotic are presented in the narrative. From beginning to end Miami Purity is 100% hardboiled noir and every page is worth the investment. So, fill your glass with neat bourbon, light up a smoke and have your weapon close by as you sit back to enjoy Vicki Hendricks’ Miami Purity.