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Wages of Sin


Wages of Sin

The year: 1927
The place: New Orleans
The crimes:
- Father Patrick Walsh is found crucified to death in an empty macaroni factory. Several young girls, all friends, disappear only to then turn up raped, tortured and dead.
- A young black teenager is found guilty of two of the girls' murders and is executed in Louisiana's brand new electric chair.
- Someone with access to every part of her life is stalking Remy Lelourie, a most popular and beautiful silent film star who is shooting a picture in New Orleans, her hometown. Her lover, homicide detective Damon Rourke, is determined to solve the crimes that ultimately force him to confront his own personal demons.

WAGES OF SIN by Penelope Williamson (MORTAL SIN, THE OUTSIDER) is a lush, noir-like thriller in the style of Hammett and Chandler. It captures the flamboyant period made famous by flappers and the Charleston. The tale is told in stark prose tempered with "down home" southern inflections. Readers will find themselves almost able to feel, see, smell and hear everything from the stench of the mud flats to the glitter of Bourbon Street; from the noisy, crowded speakeasies to the quiet mansions of the moneyed folks; from the aroma of sizzling catfish to visualizing the sun's brightness as it shines off the yellow patina of the Stutz Bearcat that Detective Rourke drives around town.

Williamson spares no detail as she presents the events and characters early in the narrative. This more than sets the stage for the information that follows. And, as readers move into the actual investigations, where all of the puzzle pieces are slowly revealed, the entire picture soon falls into a sharply carved, cohesive whole. While we are given clues and red herrings, in the finest tradition of suspense/mystery novels, few will guess who is responsible for the horrible crimes, so carefully limned is the mystery tale tightly woven into the plot.

Most often, genre writers present plot-driven books, especially those who write mystery novels. In WAGES OF SIN, however, Penelope Williamson adds a deeper dimension to an already challenging read, because she offers a glimpse into the feelings and the minds of her characters. A perfect example of her riff into persona is how she portrays the tortured detective Rourke as he relieves his tension: "…Rourke lifted the sax to his mouth, licked his lips, took a tight breath, and then he hit a note that would have left an impression on bone … [w] hat he played on this night was dark music, and deep, like the ocean, and you felt it in your liver as well as your heart. You heard things in it you'd never heard before, things you weren't sure you wanted to go near." This kind of prose is indicative of Williamson's style: it is literary, full of emotion, deeply insightful and as sharp as a scalpel.

This book is full of 'southern gothic' elements, rich in patois and the language so common to hard-boiled detectives of the 1920s. The plot is set up like a series of panels, each part of a whole that begs to be put together and the plot twists are truly inspired. This book is a winner, rich in nuance and overflowing with every element necessary for a terrific, suspenseful read.

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on March 1, 2003

Wages of Sin
by Penelope Williamson

  • Publication Date: March 1, 2003
  • Genres: Suspense
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Warner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0446528412
  • ISBN-13: 9780446528412