Or, Calendar Girl by Stella Duffy

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Stand-up comic Maggie has fallen for “the girl with the Kelly McGillis body”, a mysterious woman who can’t commit herself. Meanwhile, South London detective Saz is hot on the trail of a woman known only as “September”, who commutes between London and New York in a whirlwind of drug smuggling, gambling, and high-class prostitution. A murder brings Saz and Maggie and their respective mysteries together. Smart and sexy, Calendar Girl is a thriller high on attitude and eroticism.

I followed Stella Duffy on twitter long before I read any of her books. I think I first became aware of her because of her work with Stonewall, maybe. I’m not really sure, it’s been quite a while. I was thrilled when she gave a talk at the school I work in, and I could go. She was telling the sixth form about Fun Palaces, an amazing community initiative based on the ideas of Cedric Price and Joan Littlewood:

We believe in the genius in everyone, in everyone an artist and everyone a scientist, and that creativity in community can change the world for the better. We believe we can do this together, locally, with radical fun – and that anyone, anywhere, can make a Fun Palace.

That talk was in the same week that my friend Kate launched Only Do One Thing. The parallels between the two are so striking, and seeing the good that the two of them bring about is, without being too gushy, inspirational.

I read Theodora in early 2014, and was floored. It is so good. I read The Room Of Lost Things last year, and loved that too. I have Everything Is Moving, Everything Is Joined, a collection of short stories, and have read that more than once. But I hadn’t read any of her earlier work. I knew that she’d written a series of crime novels with a lesbian main character, but hadn’t seen them around. But last weekend, while I was adding a few ebooks to my kindle ready for the summer, I thought I would check whether they were available as ebooks. And they are! I was going to keep this for my holiday, but I just couldn’t wait that long. I was pleasantly surprised to remember the perks of reading on my kindle: it’s so small and light, which was a real boon considering how much I found myself carrying around this week, easy to hold in one hand when on a packed train, and I had the book within minutes of thinking about ordering it.

I really enjoyed it, and the various twists and turns and foreshadowing. It was also great to read something where the characters’ sexuality was the least interesting thing about them, but still very much relevant: the way that people interacted with them, how their world informed their decisions, their motivations and also the people they knew. While they don’t live in a lesbians-only world, there are connections between them that would be less likely in a heterosexual storyline. It made me laugh, it made me incredibly sad, and it kept me guessing as I tried to work out exactly what would happen. It’s also pretty creepy, which is something that Stella Duffy excels at. It also happens to fit into my Book Riot book challenge – read a book originally published in the decade you were born. Stella Duffy wrote Calendar Girl when I was just a baby, and we discussed on twitter how she felt it was brave to have published something like that in the early 1990s. It would be brave – and, sadly, rare – to publish Calendar Girl now, so to have done so then was even more so, considering how much has improved since, though it’s still far from perfect. It made me really think about it, and always sat at the back of my mind while I was reading. I also had a nice little moment, when complaining about some noisy drunk men on my train, that “I just wanted to read my lesbian detectives novel in peace!” is not something that I would have said to my mum a year ago, before I came out to my family. The only thing that tripped me up was having to google Kelly McGillis…

I’m excited to read the others in the series, but I’ve promised myself that I’ll wait until my holiday before reading them: I know they’ll keep me occupied on long train journeys or while waiting around, and I’m definitely going to need that! I’ve also recommended it to four people so far, and I doubt very much that they’ll be the last.

Update: I also wrote about this for Crime Watch: Investigating Crime From A Kiwi Perspective. I’m really proud of that post, too – you can read it here 

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4 thoughts on ““I just wanted to read my lesbian detectives novel in peace!” is not a sentence I would have happily said to my mum a year ago

  1. Since releasing my crime novel, Twister, last year, I’ve been taken aback by how surprised readers have been by the lesbian storyline contained within it. I read Stella Duffy in the 90’s and, earlier than that, Val McDermid’s lesbian detective Lindsay Gordon.You are right, it was brave then and it is still rare, sadly because any lesbian content that is not titilating or trashy is still considered commercial suicide.

    Liked by 2 people

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