Friday, October 7, 2016

MIAMI PURITY by Vicki Hendricks

Vicki Hendricks' acclaimed erotic debut novel takes it's cue from noir godfather James M. Cain and is a clear homage to his The Postman Always Rings Twice. In this one, after exotic dancer Sherri Parlay "accidentally" kills her abusive husband, she decides to start over fresh. One way to do it is to get a legit job working at the indie dry cleaners Miami Purity. Here she quickly falls for the owner's son and his "Jagger-lips," but his controlling mom stands in the way.

Hendricks' noir voice is smooth and assured, totally spot on. Her writing is one of the best examples I've seen of truly evoking the pulp paperback era but never feeling forced. There are not many things in the story that really date it, so it has a timeless feel and there are many times that I forgot that it was published in the early 2000's. Along with the Miami humidity, the dry cleaners is a perfect setting for this steamy book and all of the illicit going-ons, a place where people take all their dirty things to get them cleaned and "purified." And Sherri is a great protagonist, unapologetic about her sexuality, strong in going after what she wants at the same time she's weak in her self-control.

Now while there are lots of great things in Miami Purity, especially the final act, much of it's beginning and middle is bogged down by monotony, where it falls into a soap opera slump, with not much going on except for Sherri pining over Payne, and the two of them having hot sex and trying to hide it from his mom. In this way, it's also similar to another Cain book, Mildred Pierce, which I had similar feelings about: well-written but weakened by it's eye-rolling soapy elements. So if you think James M. Cain, but with a lot more vagina and penis, you'll get an idea of what to expect from this book. And it's cool seeing how many awesome authors have blurbed lovingly about Vicki Hendricks and her work, from Dennis Lehane, to George Pelecanos, to Joe R. Lansdale, and this edition even sports a thoughtful Afterword by Megan Abbott.


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