I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is Southern Poison by T. Lynn Ocean.
It’s a fairly basic formula tough gal, sidekicks and pals, romantic interests, a couple of bad guys, some things blow up, the bodies fall. It’s the details that make or break your book and make it stand out or not from the many other books with the same structure. Some authors go for hard core extremes, making the women tougher and more badass than any man could ever be, loners in high heels, too damaged for love and nearly superhuman in their physical skills.
Others go for a wacky slapstick vibe, with the heroine cutely deflecting bullets and lovesick FBI agents for instance.
Others try for hyperrealism, their women just happen to work in a dangerous profession and they just happen to stumble across the path of a serial killer or two. Or three. All of these have been done to excellent effect and I’ve talked about variations on all of these themes. Until I started reviewing books for this show I had no idea so many women were firearms experts, and there were so many crazed murderers out there. Ignorance was bliss, now I have to worry about being abducted by a guy who patterns his crimes after boardgames likes Chutes and Ladders, or plans on upholstering my remains with the very same fabric on his mother’s couch. (I’ve read variations on both of these. Some books I have to count as taking one for the team.)
T. Lynn Ocean takes a different approach, creating her own style from the same basic ingredients. Her tough gal is Jersey Barnes yes, she’s a firearms expert, but Ocean’s laid back charm gives her book Southern Poison a sort of loopy humor which can be lacking in the genre. Jersey is some sort of retired secret ops, and her bosses won’t let her retire, is the idea, and that developed into two plots that kept me interested, but what I really enjoyed was Jersey’s relationship with her ex-cop father and his gang of ne’er do well poker buddies. Jersey is at her most entertaining when drinking beer at her bar on the Cape Fear River, bailing her dad and his pals out of trouble for probably the millionth time, and dealing with that most terrifying opponent her boyfriend’s teenaged daughter. Ocean has a lot of different ideas, and I occasionally felt like she had too many plates in the air for one book. On the other hand, having an abundance of plot isn’t the worst thing you can say about a novel, and she wraps most everything up by the end of Southern Poison while making sure there’s plenty of trouble for Jersey to get into the next time around.