Book Review : Marie S. Crosswell - Texas, Hold Your Queens (2016)
I don't remember when it was cool to write about the American frontier. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of cool things to say about that place/concept and cool things are still being written today, but it's been overrun with literary tourists for the past couple years. So, how do you write about the American frontier without settling for easy, soulless cartel bad guys or aping the magnificent Don Winslow? Arizona-based author Marie S. Crosswell uses imaginary of the frontier for new and exciting purposes in her novella Texas, Hold Your Queens and the result is quite gripping despite a rather standard story and an inherent tininess.
The story of Texas, Hold Your Queens is delivered in parallel timelines: during the investigation and a couple months after. It'll be tricky not to spoil, but I'll try my best: the body of a Mexican woman has been found in El Paso. She's been raped and murdered and doesn't have a name, so detectives Mason Page and Farrah Tyler named her "Reina," Spanish for "Queen." Texas, Hold Your Queens keeps going back and forth between the investigation on Reina's death and the aftermath, which left Mason and Farrah traumatized and unable to go on with their lives. The question Texas, Hold Your Queens challenges you to answer before the ending is: what the fuck happened exactly?
Stories that begin with a dead Mexican woman are unfortunately a dime a dozen on the publishing market, but my pinky is telling me Marie S. Crosswell knew that because swiftly swerved around any potential stereotype. The lawlessness of Mexican cartels isn't much of a theme in Texas, Hold Your Queens (although it technically is). It's lawlessness in general that interests Crosswell. Reina has been found between a place where brute force is the only law and another one where Mason and Farrah are really the only people interested in her fate, so it begs the question: what the fuck do you do when you're put in that position? This is the real theme of Texas, Hold Your Queens and why it was interesting to me. It's a novella about the abstract nature of the legal system
Texas, Hold Your Queens stands out through its themes AND its storytelling. Marie S. Crosswell's narrative delivery was fantastic. By deliberately obfuscating past events until the very last moments, she achieved something lots of authors have failed to: building a story (in this case a mystery) through character development. Standout storytellers create gaps in their narratives readers manically try to fill and use these gaps to create surprise and twist and turn their narrative into different directions and it's exactly what Marie S. Crosswell did in the short, mean and compact Texas, Hold Your Queens. I liked it for the themes because lawlessness is a concept dear to me, but it's Crosswell's storytelling skills that impressed me the most.
If Texas, Hold Your Queens convinced me of anything, it's that you can make a dead body say just about anything. It's like a blank canvas for talented crime writers. I could be nit picky here and tell you Texas, Hold Your Queens lacked true surprise, but it managed to keep me on my toes even if I knew all the variables from the start and this is quite a feat. The only qualm I have with this book is that it was over before it started and while it set up two characters I am yearning to read more of, Marie S. Crosswell kept a story with a lot of potential to a bare minimum. Texas, Hold Your Queens is both a riveting mystery and a master class in effective storytelling. Give it a shot. Especially if you're burned out on traditional mysteries. This might just re-ignite your flame.