On M. Ruth Myers’ website, the author claims her books have “strong women–small guns–smart dialogue.” And Don’t Dare a Dame, the third book in the Maggie Sullivan detective series, makes good on those claims. And then some.
Set during the Depression Era in Dayton, Ohio, Don’t Dare a Dame starts off in classic P.I. form with Maggie Sullivan taking a seemingly dead-end case. The Vanhorn Sisters, two sweet spinsters, one of them blind, hire Maggie to look into the disappearance of their father, who vanished some quarter of century ago during the Great Flood of 1913. The investigation immediately turns deadly when the Vanhorn’s stepfather–and Maggie’s chief suspect–commits suicide, and then she gets hauled before the Chief of Police for asking too many questions. From there, the pot really begins to boil as Maggie discovers that the Vanhorn sisters’ suspicions are justified: their father was, indeed, murdered; the only question is: who is the killer? But before Maggie can identify the killer and bring justice to the Vanhorn’s, her P.I. license, her livelihood, and her life will be put at risk.
Myers definitely makes good on the “strong women” in this novel, especially the protagonist Maggie Sullivan. Tough and pretty with a smart mouth and a strong moral compass, Sullivan is a “dame” a reader can root for. This is the passage in chapter one that really sold me on this character when Sullivan takes a bully down:
I hated to persuade him, but Neal seemed like one of those guys who needed taking down a peg or two. I gave him a quick little kitten jab in the snoot. Not enough to break it, just enough to start blood gushing down to his chin and get his attention. . .’Don’t drip on the rug on your way out,’ I said.
Now that’s my kind of detective, but if you remain unconvinced of her toughness, here’s a great exchange between Sullivan and one of her operatives after she’s caught a beating herself:
“Holy smokes, Sis! Someone roughed you up bad.”
“Yeah, but I shot him,” I said to allay his dismay. ..
“Was it Cy Warren’s mugs did it?”
“Nah,” I lied. “Some girls have a fan club. The one they started for me is people lining up to break my nose.”
But it’s not only Sullivan’s toughness and sharp tongue that make this an enjoyable read. It’s also the setting. The descriptions of the area, the secondary characters and how they act, speak, and think, and the police procedural aspects of the novel: all of these elements are authentic and highly readable. And when you add those elements with a formidable lead character and a page-turning plot, it all adds up to a great mystery.
Maggie Sullivan is in the running for my favorite new P.I. series, and I’ve already downloaded Tough Cookie to my Kindle. Don’t Dare a Dame, which was recently nominated for the Shamus Award for Best Indie P.I. novel,has everything working for it. Go buy it. You will not be sorry.