The year is 1950. The place is New York City long before the reign
of Mayor Giuliani: seedy, dangerous, crime-ridden and corrupt.
Josephine Flannigan knows this world inside and out; its drug
dealers, junkies, exotic dancers and prostitutes are all well known
to her, from the years she spent as a heroin addict herself.
These days, though, Joe has cleaned up --- everyone she meets tells
her she looks "so great" now that she's not shooting up. Even
though she still does the occasional small-time crime, she's in a
safe place, off the junk and on the right track. Even so, money is
tight, and the occasional odd job (or afternoon of pickpocketing)
isn't so profitable.
So when Joe gets hooked up with the Nelsons, a suburban couple
whose eighteen-year-old daughter Nadine, a student at Barnard
College, has abruptly disappeared after getting involved with
drugs, she is stunned by the amount of money they offer her: $1,000
up front and another $1,000 when she finishes the job. The Nelsons
figure that Joe has all the connections to find her daughter and
the mysterious, violent young man with whom she was last
Josephine embarks on an odyssey through New York's underworld. She
reconnects with many of her old friends (and enemies) and must
constantly resist the temptation to return to her old addiction.
More than once, as she hits a dead end, Joe wonders why she's even
bothering to search for a girl who had every advantage and just
managed to screw up her life: "She wanted her walk on the wild side
and now she was getting it. So let her see what The Life was like.
Let her lose her looks from getting hit in the face too many times.
Let her lose a few teeth and all of her pride and all her charm
school manners. Her college education wouldn't do her any good out
here." Before long, though, Joe starts to care about the absent
girl in spite of herself, and she continues her quest even when it
looks like she might be getting played herself.
With DOPE, Sara Gran (whose previous books include a horror novel)
experiments with the noir genre. Josephine, with her combination of
frankness and vulnerability, brings a unique voice to the story,
even if her narrative occasionally seems a little too polished to
be the product of a reformed junkie with a ninth-grade education.
Nevertheless, Josephine is a more than competent tour guide to a
New York City that no longer exists, populated with colorful
characters, tragic stories and dark secrets. Fans of Raymond
Chandler and James Ellroy will relish DOPE's gritty period details
and vintage atmosphere.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 21, 2011