For the legions of former Nancy Drew devotees comes SPYGIRL, Amy
Gray's irreverent and intriguing memoir of her three-year stint as
a real-life New York City private eye. Combining tales of the
author's trials and tribulations tracking down scam artists with
entertaining stories of her dating hijinks, SPYGIRL is both a
voyeuristic reading pleasure about life and love in the big city
and a primer for aspiring gumshoes.
Yearning for adventure and an escape from "corporate hell," Gray
abandons her low-paying and demoralizing job as a publishing
assistant to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a sleuth.
Despite the squalid, rat-infested office conditions and an
eccentric cast of mostly male co-workers, Gray is in her element at
her new job and she plunges into her investigative work with a
Harriet the Spy-like devotion to the truth.
But anyone expecting action-packed, suspenseful stories of
elaborate subterfuge, tense stakeouts and armed confrontations will
come away disappointed. Gray quickly debunks the myth of the
glamorous world of the PI as we learn that modern-day private
investigators do most of their work armed with nothing more than a
computer and multiple databases. Sleuthing seems to be decidedly
more mundane than the word connotes, concerned mainly with exposing
white-collar criminals and fraudulent companies through background
checks, sophisticated computer research and skillful phone
Indeed, Gray's investigations are largely of the run-of-the-mill
variety, such as unraveling a phony investment scam being
perpetrated by a prison inmate or following the paper trail of a
check kiter who plans elaborate weddings without paying for them.
Gray's witty observations, stylish writing and crackling dialogue
goes a long way at making what could be rather tedious cases come
alive on the page, but the narrative loses steam in places where
she spends too much time dwelling on mundane aspects of the
The real strength of the book lies in her characterizations of the
quirky people she encounters both in life and at work --- bizarre
colleagues such as Assman, aptly named because of an unfortunately
placed cyst, and her short-lived boyfriend Edward, who eats emu and
is a fanatical devotee of MTV's The Real World. She is also
adept at portraying to great humorous effect the mine-filled
terrain of dating and relationships, in the vein of a younger,
hipster version of Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw.
Like Carrie, the author navigates her tumultuous love life with a
blend of keen insight, biting wit and the aid of a few good friends
and strong cocktails. But her romantic undoing comes when her
maniacal determination to ferret out the truth at all costs seeps
from the professional into the personal. It is only when she lets
down her guard and allows herself to trust her feelings over facts
that she is able to have a chance at real happiness.
With its requisite urban twenty-something protagonist searching for
love and career satisfaction, SPYGIRL is an entertaining entry in
the new breed of reality-based Chick Lit. But its smart, ironic
voice and brash, truth-seeking heroine elevate it beyond the genre,
and it perfectly succeeds at capturing the loneliness, ennui and
optimism of a youthful generation.
Reviewed by Joni Rendon on January 23, 2011