Even though I’ve written quite a lot about film noir and have to embrace noir as my favorite movie genre (ahead of another genre about which I’ve written fairly extensively, animation, although sometimes the competition between the two is fierce), there are times when, I admit it, given the choice between the latest rival to Out of the Past, or even the new Studio Ghibli offering, and some anonymous Hallmark Channel Original Mystery, I’ll choose the latter.
And thoroughly enjoy it, even if I do find I’ve forgotten it by the next morning.
I say this because I was reminded of this guilty secret of mine a lot while I was reading Pretty, Nasty, Lovely. Its primary narrator and central character, college student Emma Danelski, has some guilty secrets of her own and some traumas to confront, not least an unacknowledged miscarriage and the deaths in a car accident of her much-loved mother and sister. When a “sister” in Emma’s sorority at Merriwether University dies in an apparent suicide, the cops become interested in Emma because, at least to judge by outward indications, Emma (and perhaps also diamonds) was the dead girl’s best friend.
As you’d expect, it turns out Lydia was murdered. By the time of that revelation, Merriwether, whose policy on matters like student depression and female health has been neanderthal, if not australopithecene, has begun taking steps to improve matters. But will it be too little, too late? And does Lydia’s killer now have Emma in his sights?
This is not a book that’s going to change your life but, as with that Hallmark movie, to dismiss it on this basis would be to criticize it for not being something it never sets out to be. Its ambition is to be a piece of good entertainment, an enjoyable way to pass the time; and in that it succeeds admirably. At the same time it does manage to bring in a fair number of quite serious issues, such as youthful suicide and campus bullying, issues that our hypothetical Hallmark movie would likely avoid. (Also avoided would be the fact that, entirely offstage, our characters mostly have a pretty active sex life, and some have the sexual standards of . . . well, I don’t want to start getting letters from angry alley cats.) Add in, too, that the cast members offer a splendid diversity – almost self-consciously so — and you can see this is a thriller with its heart, and its ethics, very much in the right place.
There are some small irks. I could have done without one character’s apparent psychic abilities (she’s a Roma, too, so you know where the cliched tea leaves came from). Unless I nodded off at a vital moment, there’s an unaccounted-for set of remains at the bottom of what I mentally came to call Suicide Gorge. When Emma’s supporting a character who’s just upchucked we have this:
“You’re the best friend ever,” she gushed.
In other words, Pretty, Nasty, Lovely is not without its little imperfections. But point me to a book that is.
Overall, the novel fulfilled its function absolutely admirably. Roll on the next of Hallmark’s Emma Fielding Mysteries, is what I say.