Fast Friends, by Dianne Pugh (Pocket Books)
In her debut novel, Cold Call, Dianne Pugh introduced us to Iris Thorne, a securities dealer cum private detective whose fierce ambition was tempered by a deeply-rooted sense of right and wrong, especially when it concerned friends who had been dealt dirty. In Fast Friends, Ms. Thorne once again feels compelled to right past wrongs, this time digging through the detritus of cloudy memories about an old murder even as Los Angeles picks through the rubble of a major earthquake.
While classified a mystery, this novel is several giant steps above the typical entry in this genre. As always, Pugh takes her time helping us to know her characters intimately rather than proceeding at breakneck speed just to move the plot along, and this draws us so deeply into the world she creates that we often find ourselves holding our breath as various perils threaten the people we've come to know as friends.
The key characteristic that distinguishes Fast Friends from more traditional mysteries is that the plot is probably the least important element of the book, taking a back seat to the author's keen insights into the human psyche and her extraordinary facility with the English language. Pugh does for words what Wolfgang Puck does for food: make the familiar suddenly novel with a few deft twists and an endlessly creative expressive style that is a constant delight. Her dialogue is so lifelike you can almost hear the characters whispering in your ear, and many of her descriptive narratives demand to be read again just for the fun of it.
Pugh has also claimed Los Angeles as her own literary territory, providing a kind of Chinatown-esque evocation of a city whose history is not as deeply buried beneath its contemporary facade as we might think.
Given an appropriate level of marketing muscle by the publisher, this could easily be the breakout book for this wonderful writer. Even if you don't consider yourself a mystery fan - I myself am not one - pretend this was released, as it should have been, under "General Fiction" and have yourself a ball.
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