The crime novel, A Justified Bitch from H.G. McKinnis is set in Las Vegas. It’s not a cozy, and it’s not dark and gory. Instead, it’s a look at mental illness and how two very different sisters are swept up into a murder case.
Helen Taylor, a widow, who makes a marginal living at a local swap meet, lives in a quiet Las Vegas neighbourhood. Helen has mental health issues which started after the climbing accident that killed her husband, Bobby. Now Helen lives alone in squalid conditions, and she shares her hoarder home with innumerable cats. Helen still ‘talks’ to Bobby, and in spite of her unkempt, dirty appearance, Helen manages, barely, to function. Helen’s life comes crashing to a halt when her prostitute neighbour, Bebe, is murdered right next door.
The police think that Helen holds the clue to the identity of the murderer, but can’t get a sensible word out of her.
She wished she could remember what happened, but as usual, when she absolutely needed to recall something, it hid away inside the cracks and fissures of her brain.
Helen’s functioning sister, Pat, arrives from Arizona to help Helen, and what was supposed to be a short few days stay, turns into something else. Pat is horrified by Helen’s condition and so with the help of her teenage son, Jordan and Helen’s son Marc (who has lived with his Aunt Pat for years), they clean out Helen’s house while Helen stays at a mental health facility. But when Helen goes AWOL, another body turns up….
I liked the Vegas setting, and the ambiance of Helen’s neighbourhood where the dress code was “worn and tatty.”
The Las Vegas heat shimmered off the patched asphalt, giving an opaque and eerie quality to the air. Sitting on her porch, Helen stared into the afternoon sky, rocking and humming quietly. The corner lot gave her an exceptional view of the neighborhood. Through the wire-enclosed backyards, she had an unobstructed view of the cluttered expanse all the way to the next corner. In the opposite direction, long-abandoned treasures lay baking in the sun: old cars. worn-out furniture, and less-well-defined objects–maybe toys, maybe tools–all of them showing signs of exposure to the harsh desert environment.
Across the street, beyond a car tagged with an orange tow-away sticker, she tried to decipher the hieroglyphics of the new graffiti spray-painted across the front of the Sanchez house. No message there.
While I was initially annoyed by the whole Helen-talking-to-her-dead-husband thing, I warmed to Pat and the dilemma she faced when she came to Vegas. Helen was not going to be an easy, quick fix, and the author nailed Pat’s situation, and the difficult choices she had to make. Yes, it’s a murder mystery, but it’s clouded and complicated by mental illness. The title seems a misnomer, but it is attention grabbing.