Dara Carr’s Angela Cray Gets Real is an entertaining, unconventional mystery that is difficult to put down.
Dara Carr’s Angela Cray Gets Real is a mystery with a decidedly unconventional detective: Angela Cray is broke, living with her mother, desperately in need of a job, and entirely lacking in detective experience. Her story of venturing into this new line of work is stylish, absorbing, and laugh-out-loud funny.
Angela is unhappy and adrift, a nursing school dropout trying to recover from a relationship that left her in legal jeopardy. She is thrilled when a woman in her Phoenix neighborhood—the granddaughter of a dear, recently deceased friend—offers her a job, even if it is out of pity. When that job turns out to be tracking down a client’s missing fiancé, she’s not worried.
The fiancé was last seen escorted by two Lady Gaga look-alikes and is almost certainly getting cold feet about marriage. But finding this fiancé sends Angela in unexpected directions: she spends more time on a bicycle than is comfortable, breaks a law or two out of desperation to keep her job, and ends up enmeshed in serious controversies. While her boss and her mother look on disapprovingly, Angela must consider just how far she is willing to go to solve a case.
Told in first person, the novel’s chief pleasure is Angela’s sparklingly witty voice. She movingly describes heartbreak and hopelessness while never losing her sense of humor. Her inexperience is comical: she is forced to admit to her boss that she has flubbed even the most basic detective tasks. Her breezy self-deprecation keeps the tone light, but her grit and inventiveness provoke admiration, even as she mocks her own love of Milano gimlets and deep attachment to fancy cars.
The novel’s secondary characters are amusingly quirky but also contain depth. Angela’s mother, Moorea, is originally from American Samoa; she has “a steely immigrant mentality” and is sharp-eyed and prickly. She sees through Angela’s pretensions with tough love. Monalisa, Angela’s boss, intimidates with every glance but is softened by her intense devotion to her pit bull, Boo. “Mr. Neighborhood Watch” menacingly struts through the streets, while a man named Errol leads a group called the “Sons of Liberty” with great zeal in the fight against traffic cameras and, as it happens, against tact and personal grooming.
The novel brings its various plot threads together and proceeds at a satisfying clip until the last quarter, when characterization begins to falter. Angela’s recklessness is charming and entertaining up to a point, but in the book’s later passages, her actions begin to make less sense, and the plot’s twists and turns become less plausible. Despite these bumps, the novel’s resolution satisfies.
Dara Carr’s Angela Cray Gets Real is an entertaining, unconventional mystery that is difficult to put down. Its depth of characterization, nimble plot, and liveliness of voice make it an addictively enjoyable read.
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