Book Review – Sweet, Sweet Jayne By T.R. Monaghan
Sweet, Sweet Jayne
By T.R. Monaghan
Cnoc Mairtin Press, 2019
Fifteen-year-old Jayne Ranney lives in a dangerous world, the Lowell of the 1970s, where predators roamed the streets and high school corridors, and her own home and family failed to offer a safe retreat. Ranney is the central protagonist in “Sweet, Sweet Jayne,” a raw and compelling debut novel with a central idea so perfect that you’d expect to see it more often: Lowell-based, hard-boiled crime fiction.
I have to admit that I’m not typically a fan of crime fiction, and most of my experience with it came when I was reading Jim Thompson and other writers in the Vintage Crime/Black Lizard imprint back in grad school. There was something about Thompson’s terse prose and violent subject matter that provided a nice counterpoint to the more formal literature I was reading for classes. Monaghan reminds me of why those writers resonated and delivered such pleasant reading matter despite the dark content. Thompson and Monaghan both show tremendous sympathy for outsiders and underdogs.[adroate group=”4″]
What will make Monaghan’s novel noteworthy to mvm readers is the role played by the city of Lowell and its history. The bars and rock clubs of the Mill City arise from the past in their ragged charm. She reminds us of the way it used to be when there was a lot of ambiguity in identifying the good guys and the bad guys. Ranney, at turns tough and frail, is forced to ally herself with bookies if she is going to survive. She finds herself safer in bars among the drunks than at school.
Like Ranney, the book’s main villain, Thomas Curry, is an outsider. He’s a Nixon-era FBI agent sent to look into the regional drug economy. Curry is also a brilliant and corrupt sociopath, and, through an intricate series of plot twists that bring us everywhere from Furey’s Cafe to the Billerica House of Correction, his path and Ranney’s are fated to cross.
The characters in “Sweet, Sweet Jayne” seem familiar and likable, often both. Readers who have spent time in the city might find themselves seeing the landscape through the lens of the narrative: a network of traps and shadows. If you begin to think the book portrays bygone Lowell as a run-down, crime-ridden nightmare, you’re missing the point. It seems much more about how people forced to look outside the law for protection forge their own moral code and form loyalties that allow them to right wrongs and find balance even when matters seem hopeless. It is a study in collective human resilience in the face of the self-serving, corrupt and overpowerful.
T.R. Monaghan was recently a guest on The 495 podcast.
Click here to listen to the episode. >>>