Night Work

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The dominate topic of conversation in San Francisco is the Ladies of Perpetual Disgruntlement. Presumably a feminist vigilante group, the Ladies specialize in the public humiliation and punishment of men who have engaged in predatory or exploitive behavior against women. Their victims—including a flasher, and a seducer of an underage girl—were not especially sympathetic, and even the police found the Ladies’ creativity impressive and humorous. The laughter ceases, however, when in quick succession, a wife-beater and a rapist are found strangled. The many similarities between the crimes suggest that the same murderer is involved. Could the Ladies be responsible? Had they accelerated their punishments from public humiliation to execution?

The murder investigations are assigned to homicide detective Kate Martinelli and her partner, Al Hawkins. While busy inquiring into these crimes, Martinelli also agrees to assist the inquiry into a possible case of bride burning. Was the teenager from India a victim of a horrible accident in her kitchen, or was she murdered, as Martinelli’s friend, feminist minister Roz Hall, fears, because she had failed to become pregnant? Complicating these investigations are jurisdictional issues, the intervention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and in the case of the Indian bride, a mentally challenged husband.

As in the earlier mysteries in this series, Martinelli’s private and professional lives intertwine. A lesbian who is well connected to the feminist and gay communities of San Francisco, Martinelli finds these connections both a help and a hinderance as she tries to understand female rage. To solve these crimes, she must comprehend what happens when perpetual victims finally seek revenge. She must also confront the question whether the bond of sisterhood excuses even murder.

Kate Martinelli is a complex character trying to make sense of a complex world.