Mon 31 May 2010
by Kathleen L. Maio:
EVE ZAREMBA - A Reason to Kill. PaperJacks, Canada, paperback original, 1978. Second Story Press, Canada, trade paperback, 1989.
Even Zaremba’s first mystery surely represents one of the more unusual experiments with the female hard-boiled private eye. First of all, her heroine, Helen Keremos, is a Canadian. Second, she is a lesbian.
But if the locale of Zaremba’s mystery is obvious, the sexual identification of her sleuth is not. Since Zaremba refrains from chronicling the amorous adventures of her detective, it is only her empathy with male gay characters and occasional name-calling by disgruntled straight men that give her sexual identity away.
Keremos, who operates out of a second-floor walk-up in Vancouver’s Chinatown, is called in by an academic to trace his missing son, last seen in Toronto. With the help of a researcher friend named Alex, Keremos checks out the young man’s past as well as his friends and family — all suspects.
These include his sculptor mother and her drunken lover; a boyhood friend and his masculinity-obsessed father; and an appealing bisexual hood on the edge of Toronto’s entertainment biz. Keremos concludes that Martin Milwell’s disappearance is somehow linked to his recent acknowledgment of his homosexuality, but she must still discover the how and why of his disappearance.
The plot, which seems to be building to an obvious solution, has several twists to deliver before its unusual conclusion — one that turns the classic reenactment of the crime into an exercise in collective decision-making.
Keremos’s cross-Canada trek tells us much about the country and its people as well.
Tough, a navy veteran with plenty of street smarts, Keremos is nonetheless a sympathetic figure. When she takes on two thugs (after a few too many drinks), we may question the realism in the portrayal, but Keremos’ s macho antics are mild compared to most of her male fictional counterparts.
The politics of Zaremba’ s novel, sexual and otherwise, is clearly recognizable as part of the Seventies. For her portrayal of a believable PI, hardboiled and female, Zaremba should be recognized as an early entry in a mystery trend of the Eighties — and very probably beyond.
Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.
Editorial Comment: As suggested in my comments following the preceding post, Helen Keremos may be the very first lesbian PI, at least as published by a major publisher (although semi-obscure one). It has been reprinted once, but apparently there’s never been a US edition. (PaperJacks books were generally distributed in this country, however.)
The Helen Keremos series —
1. A Reason to Kill (1972)
2. Work for a Million (1988)
3. Beyond Hope (1988)
4. Uneasy Lies (1990)
5. The Butterfly Effect (1994)
6. White Noise (1997)