“Some situations you just need to deal with. Walk through the fire, you know?” – Paula DeLacey
Having grown up in East LA the daughter of a handyman, Iris Thorne has worked with dogged determination and ruthless intensity to rise to the position of senior investment counselor at the brokerage firm of McKinney Alitzer in downtown Los Angeles. She’s come a long way from her blue-collar past and doesn’t think much about it anymore.
Until the Northridge earthquake hits and reminds Iris of the earthquake that occurred back when she was 14 years old. The quake, combined with a strange, urgent phone message from Dolly DeLacey, the mother of her childhood best friend, dredges up memories Iris had thought long since buried.
Back in 1971 the man who owned the land where Iris and her family lived was murdered. It was thought that a cousin committed the crime, but that was based almost exclusively on the testimony of the dead man’s son-in-law, Bill DeLacey. During the apprehension of the suspected killer the police got a little overzealous and beat the man, a Mexican immigrant, so severely he ended up dying. Iris secretly witnessed the beating, but when she told her mother about it her mother instructed Iris never to speak of it again. And for twenty-three years, she didn’t.
But when Iris learns Dolly has allegedly committed suicide, red flags go up in her mind considering the message Dolly left consisted of a rambling, disjointed account of finding a forged will and claims her husband, Bill, was out to kill her. The problem is Dolly was known to suffer from mental illness, had even spent time in a psychiatric facility at one point because of it, and no one is questioning that she had finally went off the deep end for good and killed herself. No one but Iris. And when Bill shows up with a request that Iris find his daughter Paula, Iris’ childhood best friend, Iris gets the feeling there’s more to it than just wanting his estranged daughter to attend her mother’s funeral. When she learns the two candidates running in a hotly contested election for city council just happen to be Bill DeLacey’s son and one of the officers, now a lawyer, involved in that beating years ago, Iris realizes she has information that could shake the outcome of the election – and the lives of all involved – more violently than either earthquake that shook her life.
As author Dianne Emley noted in her guest post yesterday (“Earthquakes and Fast Friends”), she drew heavily from events in her own life in the writing of Fast Friends. In addition to having lived through both the earthquakes Iris does in the book, Emley also had personal experience with someone suffering from mental illness at a time when it wasn’t understood or talked about nearly as openly as it is today. Having drawn from such a personal well brings a complexity and depth to Fast Friends that takes the series to a different level than the first two outings, Cold Call and Slow Squeeze. And while they are both extremely enjoyable reads, there’s a maturity and almost ominous sense of regret/wistfulness about Fast Friends that makes it something more than ‘just’ a mystery. Without even being aware of it at the time, Emley in fact crafted a coming of age period piece that just happens to be dressed in the clothes of a mystery. It’s a powerful, moving piece of work.
It’s rare to get a series that has the ability to truly grow and show depth and flexibility in the main character(s), but it’s virtually unheard of to get that from an author not only in their first series, but to see each of the first three books in the series show such pronounced individuality and growth from one to the next, yet while still maintaining a clear sense of overall cohesiveness and identity. For all her obsession with money and fashion Iris is a deceptively complex character, and it’s gratifying to see her getting a second life with this reissue of the series so that those who missed her the first time around can finally discover what a wonderful character she is.