North of Montana

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

For April Smith, NORTH OF MONTANA constitutes her first novel. In addition to writing this novel, Smith has worked as a scriptwriter and producer for television. Living in Los Angeles, Smith has employed her firsthand knowledge of the region to add authenticity to the novel. Her protagonist, Ana Grey, has been stationed in the Los Angeles field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for seven years. Grey is ambitious and had hoped that after seven years of dedicated service that she would be in line for a promotion. Unfortunately, the “old boy” network of the agency is an impediment to her advancement. Grey does not receive the promotion that she feels she deserves. Instead, she is put in charge of a high-profile case involving an aging female film star.

The star, Jayne Mason, has accused a well-respected orthopedic doctor, Randall Eberhardt, of over-prescribing narcotics to her. She claims that Eberhardt’s prescriptions made her an addict. Grey hopes that this case can be easily solved, but it does not work out that way. The more she investigates, the more complicated the case becomes. In addition to the pressures of this case, Grey’s personal life also has been bombarded with unsettling news. She never really knew her father, who was from El Salvador. During her childhood, it was her maternal grandfather who became the strong male figure in her life. Startling revelations come to light that seem to indicate that her El Salvadoran father was driven away from her by her “loving” grandfather. Grey struggles to come to terms with both the profound personal revelations and the myriad of twists and turns that the case seems to take.

Smith does a first rate job of moving the story along. The dialogue is also effectively tough. The title, NORTH OF MONTANA, is taken from the street Montana in the Los Angeles area. For Smith, the street is one of the dividing lines between the many ethnic and economic worlds that make up the melting pot of Los Angeles. Although NORTH OF MONTANA stumbles on occasion, on the whole the novel is a gritty and distinguished crime novel.