17th Sep 2012
Blue Murder at the Pink Parrot by Ruth Ramsden
Imagine Miss Marple, except pierced, tattooed and twice-divorced, wearing latex and leather and brandishing a whip. And she lives at the seaside, funding a struggling art career with tarot readings and a dominatrix alter ego.
Got it? That’s JJ, the heroine of a new series of thrillers by début author and illustrator Ruth Ramsden.
A brash and bold narrator with a tendency to overindulge in sex, drugs and rock’n'roll, in Blue Murder at the Pink Parrot, she’s forced to turn detective when her latest erotic adventure gets her into even more trouble than usual.
Ben Hammond, the previous evening’s disappointing date, has turned up dead in suspicious circumstances. And as far as the police are concerned, JJ was the last one to see him alive.
To make matters worse, someone has anonymously posted Ben’s car keys and a selection of pornographic photos of a local gangster through JJ’s door, but she doesn’t know who or why.
As JJ attempts to get to the bottom of things (as the cover quips, that’s a skill of hers when she’s got a whip or cane in her hand), the reader is immersed into a vividly voiced noir escapade, by turns twisted, paranoid and downright dangerous.
And it all seems to revolve around notorious local kink club, The Pink Parrot, talk of the seafront town for its weird and wonderful regulars, sinister secrets and private dungeon, alongside an assortment of other peripheral characters, none of whom are quite what they seem.
Every character gets an introduction, and their physical appearance recounted in JJ’s distinctive voice. But none of the book’s numerous trans characters are described positively. They are discussed in terms of the ‘success’ of their transitions (“[she] looked like a retired builder” or “like a hooker at a Christmas party”) and reviled variously for their dress sense, physical stature and personalities.
For a leading lady with JJ’s credentials in such a broad cross-section of alternative subcultures, this came across unnecessarily snide and small-minded, and made her a far less likeable heroine.
Those issues aside, most members of Blue Murder‘s motley crew are entertaining and authentic, and tight pacing will keep you turning the pages until the explosive Bonfire Night finale.
While at times the ever-revolving circus of lurid characters and their connections to each other (not to mention the drugs, sex and other intoxicants) can cause confusion for the reader (as well as JJ herself), overall Blue Murder is a comedic cartoon adventure, and would be a fun easy read for a seedy seaside weekend away.
For more sinister secrets at another sleazy seaside, read Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth. Or for another stylised story of drag, double identities, crime and crazy costumes, read Ambition by burlesque icon Immodesty Blaize.