Friday, May 2, 2008

Book Talk: Gargantuan

by Maggie Estep
Three Rivers Press, 2004

Let me begin by confessing that I am completely in love with Maggie Estep. I first fell in love with her when she was performing on MTV spoken word shows as part of the NuYoRican Poets Cafe. I bought her spoken word album No More Mister Nice Girl about 4 times. I remember her face in black and white calling for "a thousand radiant grandmothers leaping from planes proclaiming themselves queen of the wild frontier." Infatuation, obsession... Well, yeah. Totally.

This is the first novel I've ever read by her though. As I mentioned (at length) I'm way more familiar with her as a slam poet. But let me tell you, this was an awesome novel.

Ruby Murphy is an unusual woman, with unusual friends, and an unusual life. Though she ostensibly works at the Coney Island museum she is deeply, madly in love with the New York race tracks, Belmont and Aqueduct. She's estranged from her boyfriend, Ed Burke an FBI man investigating the seedy side of racing in Florida, and now she's shacking up with a horse jockey named Attila Johnson. Well, Attila's done some shady things, pulling back horses and losing races on purpose, and now that he wants to go legit someone's out to kill him. Between Ruby and her friend Big Sal, they're trying to figure out who's trying to off this guy, while making sure he doesn't actually get killed. The ending is SO incredibly good. Scary, freaky good.

Gargantuan is book three in a series of novels about her race-track loving, mystery solving heroine Ruby Murphy. It's obvious that you're supposed to read these novels in order, since there's very little in the way of back story for any of the characters. So, picking up book three wasn't necessarily the best thing, but it's not the end of the world either. Gargantuan is a great book on its own. One of the more interesting bits of the book, and probably of the other Ruby Murphy mystery series, is that the story is told in a revolving first person. There is no omniscient narrator, but rather you hear the story in the voices of all the major characters, including the killer. It's really fantastic, and each character is written in such a way as to make their voices uniquely their own. You know exactly who you're reading, and it's a really wonderful way to experience these characters.

I would totally recommend this book to people who are fans of mystery novels, though this is not your average solving a murder mystery book, and especially to people who are madly in love with horses and race tracks. She really understands the feel of people who go to the races, who work at the races, and who love horses. That love of the track is poured into nearly every single page of this book, and her passion is evident.

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