Life has never been easy for Rose, but it becomes a bed of thorns when she wakes to discover that her pimp, Rod, was murdered in her motel room as she slept. HARD LUCK GIRL is a mystery about prostitution in a location better known for gardens than gangsters — Victoria, British Columbia.
It isn’t just the smell of death that overwhelms Rose as the story opens. Nixing a request for 911 services as being a dangerous choice, she thinks of the operator’s “gentle voice” as crawling “in my ear like a cockroach.” Actually, a cockroach attack is painful. But the image is a good metaphor for Rose’s experience, throughout the novel, of being invaded and gnawed at by something vile and infectious that only she can rip out. Rose’s brain races to think of how to dispose of her boss while keeping his demise secret from would-be competitors, his network of call girls, and the police. In order to earn, she quickly learns how to run Rod’s business.
In Rose, author Topshee Johnston creates a loner whose likability is based, in part, on recollections of the pimp — her one enduring friend. Without anyone else to trust, she solves problems based on those memories and street smarts from her childhood. Rose’s biggest challenge is staying alive. She ponders Rod’s power in the sex trade as having been “my armor, my insurance.”
The novel’s villains are appealingly deplorable as well as being unexpected choices. But they aren’t as well characterized as Rose and Rod, which leads to unanswered questions, such as what happened, aside from greed, to make them so bad. HARD LUCK GIRL has a few other problems, including an ending that falls flat after a previous harrowing scene. The story also would have benefited from more development of its setting beyond the motel where Rose and the other prostitutes live. Except for some tense ferry rides and a nightmare yacht trip, there is little sense of the action taking place on an island or in a tourist town, let alone on Vancouver Island.
Author Topshee Johnston knows how to dish up fear, suspense, and an anti-heroine worthy of a sequel of his debut novel, HARD LUCK GIRL.
~Alicia Rudnicki for IndieReader