I have been waiting for SHOOT THE WOMAN FIRST for the past 14 months or so, and I am here to tell you that it was worth every minute. It is a much larger novel than its page count (less than 300) would indicate, but in all the best possible ways.
Author Wallace Stroby dedicates his latest to Dutch Leonard, for “set(ting) the bar so high for the rest of us.” Stroby undoubtedly hits that bar and gives it an upward nudge or two. The book marks the third appearance of Crissa Stone, perhaps the most believable female protagonist in modern crime fiction. While Stone’s travels and travails occur in her familiar New Jersey and Florida settings, most of the action takes place in Detroit, the downward slide of which is chronicled in Leonard’s bibliography as well as that of Loren Estleman’s. Stroby’s grim gallery of snapshots of the city comes the same week as Detroit receives permission to file bankruptcy, an imprimatur with the immediacy similar to the old “Saturday Night Live” joke about Generalissimo Francisco Franco still being dead. His Detroit is a no-man’s land where two-legged dogs fight over the scraps, one of the largest being the drug trade.
"You will want to read SHOOT THE WOMAN FIRST at least three times: once quickly (you won’t be able to help doing so); once slowly, to savor it; and once simply to admire, line by line, how Stroby demonstrates how the job of writing noir crime fiction is fittingly and properly done."
Stone is in town to rip off a drug dealer with a good battle plan that, contrary to conventional wisdom, survives the first encounter with the enemy. However, it does not survive the aftermath; before the smoke clears, two of Stone’s confederates are dead, and Stone is on the run with a portion of her ill-gotten gain, feeling duty-bound to deliver the share of one of her now-deceased partners to his survivors. It is a touch like this that makes Stone and the rest of Stroby’s characters so interesting. She is pragmatic, but her tragic “flaw” is her sense of honor for those who have earned her trust --- not an easy thing to do in her line of endeavor. Unfortunately, she encounters trouble when she attempts to make the delivery. Worse, she brings trouble with her in the form of Burke, a badly bent and permanently damaged force of nature who is looking for an illicit score of his own.
Burke, an ex-Detroit cop, maintains intelligence connections with his former employer that, combined with his own brutal and unorthodox interrogation methods, enables him to follow the trail of stale and hidden bread crumbs that will eventually lead him to both the money and Stone. Burke and Stone have much in common, with a couple of important differences that may be classified as strengths or weaknesses, depending on who remains standing by the story’s violent and dramatic conclusion.
Stroby is amazing. No one can come close to capturing the darker side of New Jersey than Stroby, and as far as crime fiction is concerned, his standards --- that bar, if you will --- are matched by very few and exceeded by none. You will want to read SHOOT THE WOMAN FIRST at least three times: once quickly (you won’t be able to help doing so); once slowly, to savor it; and once simply to admire, line by line, how Stroby demonstrates how the job of writing noir crime fiction is fittingly and properly done.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 7, 2013