The Granite Moth  –  Satiric noir dressed in comedic drag

Private investigators come in countless shapes and sizes, and boast a variety of personality quirks. Erica Wright’s Kathleen Stone is a shape-shifter who wears a different disguise and takes on a new personality in almost every chapter of The Granite Moth. I haven’t read the first book in the Kathleen Stone series, but I gather that The Red Chameleon introduces her as a P. I. who dons countless wigs and who adopts an assortment of guises. Stone’s backstory accounts for her unwillingness to play the role of herself.

She began her career as an undercover policewoman who spent two long years infiltrating a New York gang. When that operation blew up in her face, she found herself unable to function normally. She quit the NYPD and began doing simple investigative work. Murder, however, soon intruded. In The Red Chameleon, it happened while she was shadowing an unfaithful husband. In The Granite Moth, the murder occurs as Stone watches a downtown Halloween parade. One of her friends is riding on the float that mysteriously explodes, and so Stone is drawn into the mystery of its destruction.

Stone is not comfortable, however, playing herself. She carries countless identity papers and harbors a closet filled with second-hand clothes. One of her friends is a wig-maker, who supplies her with colorful head pieces. Another close friend is Dolly, a drag queen injured in the parade explosion. With flair and good taste and much ado, he makes sure that Stone is always dressed appropriately. Even disguised, Stone has doubts about herself. The undercover stint damaged her psyche. Besides, she fears retaliation from the gang she joined in her undercover role. So she is constantly afraid of discovery. Even her apartment is rented under an assumed name.

Rereading what I’ve written so far, I realize I’ve made Stone sound dreadfully neurotic. Neurotic, yes, but not at all dreadful. The Granite Moth is often quite funny, as Stone assumes one madcap disguise after another. My favorite is a dowdy outfit comprised of an unwashed house dress smelling of fish, a shabby scarf, and a dingy brown wig, donned so she can infiltrate an anti-gay hate group. It’s quite a contrast to most of her other roles, which tend to be flamboyant, gaudy and downright campy. She, too, alternates between flamboyance and dowdiness, another indication of her inability to settle on a single personality.

A subplot follows Stone through these first two novels. Because her undercover operation as a Puerto Rican did not result in jail for the kingpin of the criminal operation she was investigating, Stone remains obsessed with finding a way to turn him over to the authorities, to make the charges stick. So even as she is working to solve the mystery behind the parade float demise, she also is keeping an eye on a series of gang members. I believe this will be the pattern for Kathleen Stone mysteries, unraveling one crime while still tracking perpetrators from her past. I do look forward to reading more about Stone’s adventures. She and her friends are fun to follow. Several reviewers have called Erica Wright’s novels “noir,” but I find them quite otherwise, more like “satiric noir dressed in comedic drag.” – Ann Ronald

Also available by Erica Wright: The Red Chameleon

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