reviewed by Barbara Saffer
It’s 1999 and Samantha Lind lives in Fremont, just outside Chicago, with her boyfriend Nick Sullivan and his daughter Rosie. Samantha takes Rosie out for silver dollar pancakes, picks Rosie up from school, helps Rosie with homework, and thinks of Rosie as her own daughter.
Using the stage name Ruby, Samantha also works in a club called the Lovely Lady, where she strips and dances for men who pay her and stuff tips in her garter. Nick is disgruntled about Samantha’s job, saying it makes him feel small, but – since Nick is currently unemployed – Samantha’s work pays the bills.
Samantha and the other dancers at the Lovely Lady, who have different backgrounds and lifestyles, aren’t really friends. However, they talk and gossip in the dressing room while they get ready for work. When a new girl called Jolene comes in for a shift, chitchat about a dead girl found at the side of the road – and jokes about the killer frequenting the Lovely Lady – make her jittery. Samantha tells Jolene it’s just a stripper ghost story, but Samantha is spooked as well, and starts to look at her clients more warily.
After that Samantha takes newbie Jolene under her wing, giving the girl advice about makeup, stripper shoes, and how to make money at the club. Then one night Jolene gets high and can’t finish her shift. This is a firing offense, but Samantha tells the boss, Dale, that someone must have drugged Jolene. Samantha offers to drive Jolene home, and Dale gives Samantha the address. The next morning, Samantha’s car is found in a ditch, Jolene’s body is discovered nearby, and Samantha is missing.
Detective Victor Amador and his partner Detective Holly Meylin catch the case, and proceed to interview Samantha’s boyfriend Nick, relatives of the girls, employees of the Lovely Lady, clientele of the club, etc. The police suspect the perpetrator patronizes the Lucky Lady and Holly asks a stripper called Georgia (stage name Gigi) to be a Confidential Informant and report anything suspicious. Georgia resists the idea but, with the correct incentive, decides to help.
Most of the story is told from the rotating points of view of the main protagonists, including Samantha; Georgia; Detective Victor Amador; Detective Holly Meylin; Samantha’s boyfriend Nick; Nick’s daughter Rosie; and the killer. There are also snippets from other dancers and a bouncer, who provide a sense of what it’s like to work in a strip club. At the Lucky Lady, after every shift, a stripper has to pay sixty dollars to the house, forty to the bouncers, twenty to the deejay, and twenty to the house mom – all of which provides incentive to coax lots of money from the customers. The customers, in turn, range from men out for a little entertainment to perverts.
As the narrative unfolds we learn that Samantha has a genetic condition that precludes childbirth; Detective Victor Amador knows a superior officer is corrupt; Detective Holly Meylin is mourning the death of her baby son; Georgia planned to attend college until her mother got dementia; Dale assiduously keeps the club running and on the right side of the law; and more.
The strip club provides an intriguing background to this thriller, which has unexpected twists and a dramatic climax.
The author, Marie Rutkoski, worked as a stripper to pay off student loans, and her first-hand knowledge of the job is evident in the story.
Thanks to Netgalley, Marie Rutkoski, and Henry Holt & Company for a copy of the book.