Former NYPD officer Maggie Terry, freshly sprung from rehab although un-liberated (mostly) from a drug and alcohol addiction, has settled into life as a private detective. She hasn’t given up her cigarettes yet, and she’s not about to settle in to a life of calmative contemplation. Her only goal is to get her legs beneath her so she can get back custody of her daughter, Alina (or at least manage to gain shared custody or visitation rights), from her ex, Frances; and the fact that Maggie was stoned out of her gourd when Alina was born and has been stuck in a cycle of rehabilitation and relapse for almost all the girls’ youth hasn’t helped her case. With Mike Fitzgerald – Professor Mike – out to help her in trade for her saving his son from a life of selling drugs, Maggie’s sure her new start is right around the corner. After all, working for Fitzgerald and Robbins, Attorneys at Law has to be easier than sweating it out under lockdown, hasn’t it?
But things are not calm at the law firm. The office dynamic is very intense, and Maggie must grapple with her own sense of rootlessness, her issues with Frances – who’s moved on without her and is in love with a new woman. Coming to grips with Mike’s partner, the cheerful Enid, long-suffering IT tech Craig and nearly invisible legal secretary Sandy, Maggie is ready for everything but the case that comes through the door. When Jamie Wagner, an up-and-coming young actress, is murdered, her much more famous co-star Lucy Horne hires the firm to find out who did it. (Yeah, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that she’d hire a law firm instead of a PI, but whatever.) Lucy blames a boyfriend of Jamie’s, but Maggie knows something else is going on. She interviews the boyfriend, falls off the wagon, and plunges herself into a very personal investigation. Can Maggie get herself together and find the real killer before it’s too late?
Maggie Terry is a compelling read, something that captures something essential of life in New York in this modern era, but it’s got a few flaws that keep me from giving it a full recommendation. There are bobbles in the writing, such as when someone is described as “As smooth as lube for ladies,” that pulled me up short, and there are some tropetastic moments that just weigh it down.
Yet it is so engaging, so interesting in several very vital ways that the reader might find it worthwhile to seek out anyway.
Maggie is desperate, fucked up and messy, and the narrative doesn’t deny these facts. There are some fine observations about addicts and sobriety, and the push-pull between the two desires – sobriety and cleanliness, responsibility and saying ‘fuck it’ at the top of your lungs. And hey, she’s a fan of Chopped, which makes her more like me than many of the people I’ve read about recently. You have to come to the book knowing she’s a flawed heroine and forgive her for her disorganized, terrible behavior. Her alcoholic father, her abusive ex-partner, her terrible relationship with Frances, and the situation with her work-partner – all of those things end up informing her character. While things stay frustratingly unsolved when it comes to Maggie’s desire to become a guardian to her daughter once more, it feels quite true to life and realistically messy that she doesn’t.
The book is otherwise littered with interesting characters, like Rachel, an ex-addict and Maggie’s sponsor, and Mike, stern and loving and forgiving all at once.
Politics weigh heavily and understandably upon the narrative, even though Maggie is barely plugged into the national zeitgeist. Everyone talks about the President without saying his name for over half the novel to increase the punch when the word ‘Trump’ finally enters the narrative (they call him by the nickname ‘The Orange Monster’, mostly) but the book does a good job of trying to reflect the occasionally confusing, occasionally depressing world that’s been left for many queer people in the wake of Trump’s election.
There are some bobbles, however. Someone is described as “As smooth as lube for ladies,” – really?
But then the novel feels the need to discuss police violence, racism and the Black Lives Matter moment, and in this it manages to fall short. In a subplot, Maggie learns that a rookie cop friend, Eddie Figueroa, has been accused of murdering a black man named Nelson Ashford for the crime of reaching for his keys during a stop – and will be going free thanks to a technicality. Her emotions are mixed but she has a lot of sympathy for the police, for Eddie and for his father, her ex-partner, Julio. While the novel tries to properly shed some light on Maggie’s white privilege while trying to explore the mindset of police officers, it puts far, far too much sympathy on Eddie’s side of the case, and while an ex-cop like Maggie might feel that way about it since she’s personally involved, this portion of the book isn’t illuminating and often comes off as simplistic and relying on white savior tropes.
Maggie Terry is a compelling book; sometimes for the wrong reasons, sometimes for the right ones, just like its titular heroine. But ultimately, I have too many reservations about certain aspects of the storyline to be able to recommend it.