Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Gargantuan, by Maggie Estep

(pb; 2004)

From the back cover:

“Ruby’s life is nothing if not complicated: she’s spending a lot of her time worrying about a jockey named Attila Johnson; a good-hearted Teamster with a bad back; a neighbor who’s suspicious of anything that moves; one very fat cat who craves raw meat; a missing FBI agent; an underused piano; a few fine horses – and the sure knowledge that somehow, somewhere, there’s a killer among them.”


The second Ruby Murphy mystery maintains much of the joy of its predecessor, Hex. Most of the characters are charming, believable and eccentric, save one, the villain, who comes off as simple – and simplistically rendered. The black-witted, zesty story moves along quickly.

Most mysteries read on one level, as they're generally focused on corpses, clues and suspects. Estep’s use of alternating first-person POVs for each chapter eschews that traditional mystery structure, putting focus on the characters, and their mostly-pullulating personalities. Because of this, Gargantuan moves beyond its mystery-genre limitations.

This is also the reason why Gargantuan fails as a mystery. Estep’s emphasis on the characters not only fleshes out the traditional mystery structure, it makes the “mystery” element a less-than-mysterious afterthought. This flaw is exacerbated by the fact that Estep reveals the lead pseudo-villain in the first quarter of the novel.

Read as fiction, this is more than worthwhile, with Estep's understated quirkiness suffusing the prose with a life it might otherwise lack.

Followed by Flamethrower.

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