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Noir Mom

A Detective Pursues Her Own Daughter's Abduction in Crossing the Dark

by Carol Cooper

Crossing the Dark
By Heidi W. Boehringer
Serpent's Tail, 244 pp., $14.95
Heidi W. Boehringer's first novel, Chasing Jordan (2005), was a harrowing post-feminist meditation on how the modern nuclear family provides no safe haven for any of its members. The plot point she used to symbolize this systemic failure was a loving mother inadvertently causing the death of her own child. Crossing the Dark, Boehringer's second book, now transplants the same basic theme and distaff perspective into the breezier realm of genre fiction, namely the police procedural. Once again, the lead character is a working mother -- with all the mental and material insecurities inherent in that condition. But this time the mom is a recently divorced cop, and the crime around which the novel pivots is the kidnapping and serial rape of her 13-year-old daughter.

In truth, I believe Boehringer's core concerns find more perfect expression within crime fiction. Her crisp, clean prose demystifies tangled, toxic emotions and delusional behavior faster than years of therapy. As pessimistic about basic human nature as Chandler or Hammett, Boehringer takes Officer Mona Schlagel down a road of despair and grief that lets readers experience the exact moment when all hope of rescue and redemption is lost.

Because her subject matter verges on the taboo, a noir treatment offers the perfect way to introduce the troubling material. Early on, you can almost feel the author struggling to control the quantity, velocity, and flavor of tawdry information she must reveal, in an effort to prevent Crossing the Dark from reading like kiddie porn. Yet every structural component of a good noir thriller supports Boehringer's narrative strengths?strong sexual content, tough yet scarred female characters, black humor, and sardonic banter steeped in ironic self-awareness. The book compares favorably with the deliciously mordant Inspector Petra Delicado mysteries by Spanish author Alicia Giménez-Bartlett. But as it stands, Crossing the Dark remains a moving allegory about how America fails her children.

Published in: Village Voice, Oct. 30, 2007