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After her mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Billie Levine revamped her grandfather’s private investigation firm and set up shop in the corner booth of her favorite North Jersey deli hoping the free pickles and flexible hours would allow her to take care of her mom and pay the bills. So when Tommy Russo, a rich kid with a nasty drug habit, offers her a stack of cash to find his missing girlfriend, how can she refuse? At first, Billie thinks this will be easy earnings, but then her missing person’s case turns into a murder investigation and Russo is the detective bureau’s number one suspect.
Suddenly Billie is embroiled in a deadly gang war that’s connected to the decades-old disappearance of a famous cabaret dancer with ties to both an infamous Jewish mob and a skinhead group. Toss in the reappearance of Billie’s hunky ex-boyfriend with his own rap sheet, and she is regretting every decision that got her to this point.
Becoming a P.I. was supposed to solve her problems. But if Billie doesn’t crack this case, the next body the police dredge out of the Hudson River will be hers.
Billie Levine is a main character torn between her demanding work like and her demanding home life. Living with her brother, grandfather, and mother who has early onset Alzheimer’s, not only is she trying to make sure her mother is safe, she is trying to solve a case of Jasmine, a murdered college girl and true crime podcaster who was doing a series on a local unsolved murder outside of a strip club in 1991. Billie is hired by Tommy Russo, Jasmine’s junkie boyfriend who is also rich enough to give Billie whatever money amount she asks for, as long as she can prove his innocence.
What follows is a mystery that pits Billie against the local mob, the local skinheads, the local police, and her own family. She gets warned repeatedly that she needs to stop the investigation, by all sides of the story, but her tenacity and clever investigation skills keeps her ahead of those that are trying to scare her or murder her. In the end we get a main character that is strong and smart but also has her flaws. She knows she needs to stop. She knows she needs to be home so her mother does not wander off, that most of the burden of watching her has fallen on her retired grandfather, who deserves to go to the deli and the bar with his friends and day drink because he has earned it, and Billie’s brother, a nurse doing his best to control his bipolar disorder while trying to date and move out of the house. She feels the guilt of given these two more of the burden while she tries to solve the case, but she also knows that she cannot stop the case. The tension between her and the rest of her family is palatable, and we understand Billie has to take care of her mother but she also needs to make money to be able to take care of her mother. This family dynamic added to the danger of the investigation gives Death of a Dancing Queen elements that make this a good mystery thriller.
Kimberly G. Giarratano does not reinvent the genre with this novel, but there are enough good elements in this that I will be more than happy to read another book that involves Billie and her investigations. She is a well-written character and the story has a good plot and good pacing. Some of the twists and reveals seem less organic and more like a one hour Law and Order episode, but as a whole, this is worth spending your time with. This is the first book by Angry Robot’s new crime imprint, Datura Books, and I am excited to see what comes of this new label. Death of a Dancing Queen is a solid, if not a little safe, start.
I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.