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Crime Beat

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From the Hip : Hot nights with Vicki Hendricks

nullMiamiiguana Joanne Hichens, an avid reader and writer of crime fiction, gives her monthly take on krimis that have grabbed her attention.

Last Crime Rap I referred to James Ellroy as the King of Noir, and that got me thinking of Vicki Hendricks, the undisputed Queen of Noir, and for good reason, as she writes biting prose on her favorite themes of passion and sexual obsession. Even though Hendricks never intended to write ‘crime’ novels specifically, she’s pretty much accepted her accolades and status as ‘truly the queen of Florida noir erotica’ as Maxim Jakubowski puts it.

In both novels I’ve read – Hendricks’ debut Miami Purity and her second novel Iguana Love – there are no PI’s or cops featured. There isn’t even a crime that’s happened up front. Instead, Hendricks showcases female protagonists, flawed and twisted women who could be considered the losers of society, as they go through life making one bad decision after the other.

Interviewed by Charlie Stella, Hendricks says, “My novels are character driven, someone trying to fulfill a need and achieve a goal…the subject matter – crime, love, whatever – is incidental. For me it’s the depth of emotion and the originality of the character that makes something intriguing – that and the sex.”

And Hendricks’ novels smoulder, then burn with the sex.

The original first few pages of Iguana Love were chopped, as publishers Serpent’s Tail reckoned the reader might not cope with the narrator, Ramona, smothering a detective by squatting on his nose and mouth. Was Ramona naked at the time? I’d guess so! “Of course,” says Hendricks, “there was the dog-licking scene in Miami Purity, that Sonny Mehta suggested I take out.” Which she did, though generally self-censorship ain’t her style.

Passion is taken to the limits in her work, so much so that Hendricks says a criticism of her novels is that “women especially, who haven’t experienced sexual obsession, just don’t believe that it exists. None of my characters so far have chosen happiness, wealth, sanity, or safety, over passion…”

And of course it all leads to murder.

Another link with James Ellroy, is that he penned this now famous cover-blurb that features on Miami Purity:

This book is an instant redneck savant classic: so gruesome and deadpan outlandish that you wind up baying at the moon like a Florida coon dog

Though the themes are age-old – incest, lies, deception, lust – how refreshing to read this from the point of view of a white-trash female driven by disappointment and obsession. This is Sherri, who tries out the straight and narrow after dumping – practically from page one – her abusive husband Hank, and her own past as a strip dancer and druggie. She starts fresh with a job at a laundromat, but her clean-living record is soon sullied as she sneaks sex there every chance she gets. But Sherri’s new lover and co-worker, Payne, in the employ of Momma Payne, has little intention of sorting out his dirty laundry…

Iguana Love is more sophisticated, but the themes of obsession, passion, and the chaos that prevails is all there, plus her pet iguana in the bath tub. Ramona divorces her husband, quits her job as a nurse and starts a scuba-diving course; she body builds and swallows handfuls of steroids to really pump up those muscles, all to hold her sultry lover’s attention. It’s lurid and gripping and turns oh so nasty as Ramona is pushed to desperate measures – sexual, primal, murderous – to regain some measure of her own identity.

Hendricks talks of the influence of James M. Cain on her work, and thanks to Hendricks I savoured again the wicked love triangles culminating in mayhem in The Butterfly, Serenade, Galatea, and The Postman Always Rings Twice. And on this influence, here’s the verdict, from the Independent on Sunday: “Tauntingly playful and consistently raunchy, Hendricks has blazed down a path all her own…Chandler, Hammet and Cain might be shocked at such manoeuvres. But Hendricks is their first true female equivalent.”

Check out Kalahari or Amazon, and find Sky Blues, Voluntary Madness, Cruel Poetry, also by Vicki Hendricks. And I did say I’d hit the bookshops… I’ve managed to jot down a list of intriguing titles…so watch this space, and Happy Holidays.