by Julie Tollefson
Years ago, when I decided I wanted to try to run a 5K, I chose one that sounded fun: The Fat Boy 5K in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The name sounded less serious than, say, an Iron Man competition, and the promise of chocolate milk and beer at the finish line attracted even plodders like me. The race was fun. My time was dreadful. But a fast time wasn’t the point. The point was to challenge myself to do something out of the ordinary (for me), enjoy the experience, and perhaps even become a better person because of it.
My newest challenge to myself will be way easier and infinitely more enjoyable. Inspired by Sisters in Crime’s recent Report for Change: The 2016 SinC Publishing Summit Report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Mystery Community, I’m adding variety to my reading diet and I’m using the report’s Appendix A as a guide.
Appendix A, known as Frankie’s List, is a terrific resource for identifying mystery writers from diverse groups: African American writers, Asian American/Asian writers, Hispanic/Latino/a writers, South Asian American/South Asian/South Asian British writers, Native American writers, and LGBT writers.
I decided to start my new reading journey with The Red Queen Dies by the list’s namesake, Frankie Bailey, criminal justice scholar and former national president (we call them goddesses) of Sisters in Crime. (Read about how Frankie’s List came to be on the Sisters in Crime website.)
The Red Queen is a terrific tale, a traditional police procedural set in the near future (2019—the novel came out in 2013) with fun sci-fi vibes throughout and themes related to Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz running through the storyline. The title comes from the last of the serial killer’s victims, a stage actress who starred as Alice as a child and then the Red Queen as an adult.
Some scenes have a graphic novel-like quality to them. The pictures that formed in my head as I read one passage—in which a trouble-making citizen journalist declares that everyone, particularly women, should be afraid to go out at night—were straight from the classic Dark Knight comic books of several decades ago. Shadowy streets. Danger lurking around every corner. Good versus evil, with evil seemingly having a slight edge.
The story also touches on important present-day issues. Racial unease and resentment simmer. The country’s first woman president holds office but her term has met with difficulties. Miniature cameras record cops’ encounters with citizens and suspects.
The Red Queen is a rich, layered story populated by rich, nuanced characters and is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
I’d say stage one of my new reading journey is a success, and I didn’t even break a sweat.