Charlotte Carter’s Rhode Island Red is a nice little mystery centering on the author’s recurring detective Nanette Hayes. Charlotte Carter has a number of quality novels under her belt at this point, yet on initial publication in 1997 this was the first to feature this detective. As one of the author’s earlier books, it is also a fascinating look back into older examples of her work.
Nanette is a woman who enjoys playing the saxophone. She quibbles as to the connection between her career as a street performer and the lies she tells her mother in connection to it, yet proves quite adept at juggling them even so. Finding a man friendly and in need of a little while in private Nanette flirts a little and takes him up to her place. Not long after the man is dead on her floor, and his identity as an undercover cop is revealed. Nanette fully understands the seriousness and attempts to be honest with the police, only for one called Leman Sweet to immediately become antagonistic to a degree even other officers would find unacceptable. None of this means much comparex to the $60,000 dollars she finds in her saxophone, and the words Rhode Island Red connecting her and the money to the death of an increasing number of people.
Two love interests rotate through the story named Walter and Henry. Each is a most entertaining in his own right, but like many good rough mysteries there is a noticeable aspect of each being steeped in the story. The chances seemed slim that either is truly uninvolved, and Nanette’s attempts to juggle the pair further remind the reader of classic noir in all of the very best ways.
The narrative is an interesting mix of the hobby mystery genre and hardboiled noir. The use of jazz and music in general within the story is quite entertaining, and a fan of the genre is bound to recognize a few names. At the same time the raw depictions of police corruption, grey worldview of the lead, and peculiar outlook on the world all lend themselves to noir and a variant on the hardboiled detective.
There is an ambiguity to the ending of this book which is very enjoyable, yet much unexpected in comparison to the overall tendancies of series mystery novels. It is wonderfully written, and most definitely worth the risks to the continuous reading experience that would come from an interpretation outside of the most obvious (that of a gore-discretion-shot) or the complications it might add to the life of Nanette in any event. Indeed, the disturbing action taken is easily enough to draw a reader in and make them pick up another volume.
Rhode Island Red is a short and entertaining introduction to Nanette Hayes, and also makes an excellent introduction to the work of Charlotte Carter. While the personality of the lead is interesting, the complicated nature of their morality only add to the interest. Well worth a look.
(Black Lizard, 2021)