NOREEN AYRES – The World the Color of Salt. “Smokey” Brandon #1. Avon, paperback reprint, 1993. First published by William Morrow, hardcover, 1992.

NOREEN AYRES Smokey Brandon

   I bought this as much for the cover as anything — a blue and green composition that blends a mermaid-like naked body into a coastline. Strikingly attractive, and different. The title is from a poem by Richard Hugo, who wrote a mystery before his death.

   Smokey Brandon is a forensic Specialist for the Orange County Sheriff/Coroner’s office. She’s been a stripper, and she’s been a cop, and she’s about half tough. Her troubles start when a 20 year old kid she knew casually is killed in the robbery of a stop and go store. Though she’s developed a protective shield to go with her job, this one gets to her.

   She’s sort of in love with a married co-worker, and her best friend takes up with a guy with a record who was briefly a suspect in the killing. Things go from bad to worse on all fronts, and she finds herself hunting her friend while she continues to search for answers to the killing.

   Ayres is an award-winning poet, and this is her first mystery novel. It’s a good one, and I don’t know how I missed it in 1992. Ayres gives Brandon a glib, hard voice entirely in keeping with her character, and she is one of the best realized new characters, male of female, that I’ve come across in a while in hardboiled fiction.

   And this is hardboiled, make no mistake about that. The story is told in first person, and very effectively. Ayres has an eye for the California landscape and its denizens, and if the details of the forensic trade aren’t accurate, they’re done well enough to fool me.

   The only fault I found was an occasional jerkiness as the story shifted from reflection to action, and that wasn’t often. Ayres is good.

— Reprinted from Ah, Sweet Mysteries #10, November 1993.

The Smokey Brandon series —

      A World the Color of Salt. Morrow, 1992.
      Carcass Trade. Morrow, 1994.

NOREEN AYRES Smokey Brandon

      The Juan Doe Murders. Five Star, 2000.

Editorial Comments:   Once again I’m pleased to say that here online I can show you the cover that Barry was referring to, one he wasn’t able to in his printed zine. I think it lives up to his description of it, don’t you?

   As for the book itself, based on Barry’s review, it’s a shame that there’s been only three books in the series, the third of which was news to me. For whatever reason, the series didn’t catch on. Or perhaps Noreen Ayres herself had other options available to her.

   From her website: “Noreen Ayres has published novels, short stories, and poetry, and has had three teleplays produced, winning several awards for writing. Her varied career includes positions as a technical writer/editor and publications manager for major engineering, petroleum, and aerospace companies. Holding a Masters degree in English and post-grad certifications in business, she has taught composition, creative writing, business, and science.”