But I Wouldn’t Want to Die There

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The terrors and delights of New York City are described in memorable detail in this novel, which charts Jenny Cain’s investigation of a good friend’s murder in the city. Jenny is a former foundation director from New England, and when an ambiguous answering-machine message from a friend is followed by that friend’s apparently random murder, Jenny agrees to step temporarily into her friend’s position in a New York philanthropic foundation to find out what happened to her.

Her investigations bring her into contact with the New York mythic types: cabdrivers, doormen, obsessed wealthy philanthropists, elderly eccentrics, street toughs. Her own story is also a compelling thread in the action. Her strong attraction to the city is balanced by her fear of it, and she must decide whether or not she wants to relocate permanently to New York—a decision complicated by her husband’s dislike of the city.

Nancy Pickard’s Jenny Cain stories, like those about V.I. Warshawski (by Sara Paretsky) and Kinsey Millhone (by Sue Grafton), contain separate investigations but also form a part of a saga of female self-definition that extends over the entire series. If the end of BUT I WOULDN’T WANT TO DIE THERE is not quite satisfying—the concluding action seems to have been lugged in because it was time for the story to end—the reader will not be seriously disappointed, because the myth of New York has been so thoroughly and delightfully explored, and because the experience has believably become a part of Jenny Cain’s ongoing development.