Westside Saints (A Gilda Carr Tiny Mystery)

Written by W.M. Akers
Review by Fiona Alison

The sequel to Westside, Westside Saints is part alternate history, urban fantasy, mystery, and time-slip―a frenetic roller coaster ride through 1922 Prohibition-era Manhattan. A fence erected six months before separates the Haves from the Have-nots. Gilda Carr is a detective who solves tiny mysteries, leaving the larger ones (like murder!) to others. Asked by the Electric Church preachers to locate their relic, a saint’s finger, Gilda is soon embroiled in large-scale corruption, greed, political manoeuvering and …… murder. The preachers have brought their dead father back to life (the truth of which Gilda scoffs at) and are promising 50 more resurrections at a fee few can afford, considering there’s no food, firewood, doctors or lights on the frigid West side. Along with a winter deep-freeze glacial enough to make a reader’s teeth rattle, a strange magic has taken place, collapsing streets and pummeling buildings which are now overgrown with enormous trees thrusting their branches into the upper stories. Then Gilda’s long dead mother shows up with total amnesia and looking somewhat younger than Gilda.

The dialogue here is biting and caustic, the atmosphere relentlessly dark, and there are few redeeming features to be found in any of the thoroughly unlikeable characters. Gilda is gin-soaked, rarely sleeps, and engages in scathing verbal battles with her mother as they slip and slide their way across ice-packed streets and blizzard-whipped snowdrifts. But there is something engaging about her wit, her intelligence and her determination to do something good in a place where there is no good to be found. I think the novel could have been a bit shorter, although time and place are brilliantly evoked by Akers’ clever and rather droll prose: he is a master of the metaphor, the dialogue is bullet-fast, and I often felt the cold! Recommended for readers who enjoy the weird and wacky, and lots of it.