Queenpin by Megan Abbott
If Abbott's first book, Die A Little, was a perfectly mixed old-fashioned, and her second, The Song Is You, a Porterhouse, medium-rare, then Queenpin is somewhere between dessert and a Dunhill.
Like her previous work, Queenpin follows the story of a woman drawn to the dark end of the street, half-seduced, half a willing party in her own corruption. But this time, Abbott abandons the neon-noir of Hollywood for 1960s Vegas.
Our narrator is cooking the books in a two-bit joint called Club Tee Hee when she meets the legendary Gloria Denton, a gangster who can hold her own betting at the track, throwing back with Lucky Luciano or gutting a double-crossing stripper with a straight razor. Gloria sees something she likes, and takes her under wing, where our girl proves a quick study.
As much as she relishes Gloria's approval, her wing is a suffocating place to be, and the narrator takes refuge in the arms of exactly the kind of man Gloria warned her about. Getting away with that kind of rebellion makes her hungry for more, causing her to test the limits of her loyalty. She's smart - but smart enough to pull off a double-cross? Don't bet your britches. Or bet 'em. Either way, you're in for a surprise.
Abbott not only writes hard-boiled, she's a damn scholar in the field with a PhD from NYU to boot. As such, she is keenly aware of the tradition in which she works, and has plenty of intelligent things to say about it. Check out her post about "noir-kitsch" on The Rap Sheet, where she addresses the question, "How can you engage the reader to identify if he or she feels like it’s all a quaint exercise in nostalgia?" Also worth checking out is her recent interview on Noir Writer where she says the best thing I've read in weeks: "Others have said it better, but basically I feel that all fiction is genre fiction, or none of it is."
We love her.