Jenny Siler


"Shot"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark SEP 30, 2002)

This novel opens with Carl Greene standing at a window in Seattle hotel, realizing that he wants out. We don't know what it is that he wants out of, we don't know why he wants to fly home to his wife Lucy and explain everything to her, hoping to make "it" better. What we do know is that, he leaves the hotel to take an auto ferry over to Bainbridge Island, he drives north way past Poulsbo and west, past Sequim, and on past Port Angeles with late afternoon turning to a rainy early evening. Then, he sees a flare in the road, stops and is taken by gunpoint by a man who was on the ferry.

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Next we find out that Kevin Burns, a distant school friend and unemployed reporter has flown from New York City to Denver, Colorado to meet Carl Greene for a 1:00 baseball game in Coors field. Carl never shows. Carl promised Kevin that he had the kind of story "that makes careers, or saves them" and Kevin's career needs saving after having been fired by MSNBC for airing a story that was acquired by unethical means. Kevin is uneasy about Carl not showing up -- why would he overnight airline tickets and then not show up?

And so it's not surprising that we next find Lucy Greene at her husband's funeral in the company of her brother, Chick. However, it seems that she's been told that her husband died by auto accident, not foul play, as we would have suspected. Carl is buried next to the tiny grave of their son; Lucy has now lost both her husband and a baby. She's stuck with her grief in a house far too big for just her.

That night Lucy hears someone down in Carl's study. Emboldened by her loss, she takes the Glock from the nightstand and makes her way downstairs to confront whoever is in the house. The intruder flees and in her mourner's sluggish mind, Lucy doesn't really react to this invasion. That morning, Kevin Burns pays her a visit and explains about the meeting he was supposed to have with Carl. Lucy is unaware of what Carl wanted to tell Kevin. Though her mind is still in a daze, it is starting to click... Why did someone break into Carl's study? Why would Carl call Kevin? Why did Kevin say that Carl seemed upset? When had she ever seen her husband lose control of a vehicle or anything else in life? And thus when Chick comes to get her for lunch, she asks her brother "what if it wasn't and accident."

And then that night, not realizing that Carl's employers have raided the office, Darcy, an ex-convict under the control of her sister's jail warden, returns to finish the bungled burglar job in Carl's office. This time Lucy is prepared and co-opts Darcy into helping her steal the files that Carl's employers took earlier that day. Meanwhile, Kevin has been doing his own investigations. And in a sudden unexpected twist, Kevin, Darcy and Lucy find themselves on the run as they seek the truth about Carl Greene and what he was researching. And we, the reader, are going to finally find out why Carl Greene wanted out.

Jenny Siler mixes a lot into this murder mystery. Kevin is really more Lucy's friend than Carl's -- in fact, Lucy and Kevin were lovers back in high school -- long before she married Carl. And although Lucy at first seems like an upper-middle class wife, we soon learn that this is one gutsy girl who could out shoot both Kevin and Chick when she was a girl. Then there is Darcy, a street-smart ex-convict, who has a real humane spot for her weaker drug-addicted sister who is still locked up and within reach of the loathsome warden. Lucy trusts Darcy, but Kevin doesn't; however, Kevin has never gotten over Lucy and thus easily gives in to her wishes. And with nothing left to lose, Lucy is fearless.

The novel is a little unconventional since we have the three main characters and not just the usual single lead protagonist to sympathize with. For the most part, this works; each is strong and individual enough. When I think about it, this technique adds to the uncertainty of predicting the outcome since each has his or her own motivation for being involved.

Shot is more of a thriller style novel than a murder mystery in the sense that there is a lot of action (one thing leading to another) and minimum detective work. The plot of the novel hangs on a conspiracy theory that ties together a TB outbreak at the prison, Gulf War Syndrome and Lucy's babies death from encephalocele and uncovers a startling revelation about the government and private sector.

One of the main reasons I liked her previous novel, Iced, was the way in which Siler gave character to the state of Montana. Although Shot does have many scenic locations, it never gets into the real heart of locale the way Megan Gardiner describes her terrain and fellow Montana natives. I mention this only to set expectations. Except for defining more strong women, Shot is a whole different novel than Iced, and should be appreciated as such. To her credit, Siler does mark this novel with some of the same stylistic choices as the previous one, such as not providing a conventional ending.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 7 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Shot at MostlyFiction.com

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"Iced"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark DEC 19, 2000)

Twenty-nine year old Megan Gardner is a loner and an ex-con. She spent 18-months in a New Mexico prison and when released she buys a bus ticket to Missoula, Montana. She chose her hometown partially because she felt she had nowhere else left to go and partially driven by a nostalgic remorse for her family.

Given her past, employment options were limited; wanting to play it straight, she finds a job repossessing cars for GMAC. She likes this job since the work keeps her "in the circle of personal failure and despair" that she is most comfortable with in a town where "neighbors wave and people stroll the streets on summer nights eating ice cream."

It's December 20th and so far the coldest day of the season when she goes to repo Clayton Bennett's jeep. The job's been made easier by the fact that Bennett's "iced" body is being fished from the Clark Fork river, supposedly stabbed by two Indians during a drunken brawl. Meg decides to reclaim the jeep before anyone else gets the idea to do the same; she assumes if Bennett owes one, he owes on others. It is after dark by the time she drives the jeep away, so she decides to park it at her house for the night. That's when she notices a metal case in the back seat. Before she's had a chance to successfully break the combination lock, a couple of thugs show up in the predawn hours to claim the metal case. Meg's not looking for trouble and readily gives it up.

Outside of returning the jeep (now with a broken window and scratch in the paint), she should be done with the Bennett repo job. But there's something nagging at her about one of the Indians that is implicated in the Bennett murder. She needs to know more about the woman called Tina Red Deer. Like a "slow kindling, a red ember smoking for hours, even days, until it explodes in the dry underbrush and the forest bursts into fiery tongues," this incident is about to ignite a new kind of understanding about her own life and family.

And the Bennett business isn't leaving her alone either. When she returns from another repo job, she finds that her home has been tossed and she's being held with a knife to her throat by an alarming woman wanting the metal case for herself. Meg begins to understand that Tina Red Deer and her male companion may not have been Bennett's killers. Desiring to get at the bottom of Bennett's murder to clear Tina Red Deer's name, she puts her life and others in jeopardy. Whatever got Clay Bennett iced is about to cause a few others to die as well.

And the Bennett business isn't leaving her alone either. When she returns from another repo job, she finds that her home has been tossed and she's being held with a knife to her throat by an alarming woman wanting the metal case for herself. Meg begins to understand that Tina Red Deer and her male companion may not have been Bennett's killers. Desiring to get at the bottom of Bennett's murder to clear Tina Red Deer's name, she puts her life and others in jeopardy. Whatever got Clay Bennett iced is about to cause a few others to die as well.

The first thing that struck me about this book is the setting. Through Jenny Siler's own love for her home state, we get to visualize, smell and learn what is unique about Montana. "No one thinking in terms of habitability would put Montana very high on their list of places to call home. In winter, of course, there's the cold. Spring and fall, there's the cold as well. July races by, perfect, spectacular, the only livable month. In August the fires come." Through Megan, she describes Montana as place where, until recently, everyone is a "have-not" and that in a state with mostly white faces, "people here are resourceful and have learned to focus their hatred on out-of staters and tax collectors." For this reason, it doesn't surprise Megan that Montana produces a string of antigovernment groups and crazies. She explains how Montana was the last state to raise the drinking age, the last state to slow down to fifty-five miles an hour, and the first state to prove how ineffective the Brady bill really is. "If it had been a Saturday morning in summer I could have driven through the leafy neighborhoods of Missoula until I found a rummage sale that had what I wanted. And if I had half a day to spare I could have checked the firearms section in the Missoulian classified."

Another thing that I like about this book are the characters. Megan is somewhat of a tough girl with a mixed background. Initially she grew up well off until a sudden event causes her parents to become the town scandal. But this is information that she has hidden from her boyfriend, Kristov, a Yugoslavian refugee whose story of "escape" initially disappoints Meg in its seemingly non-heroic actions. Her co-worker, Darwin, used to live in Colorado where she was a junkie until she came to Missoula for a fresh start. "Technically speaking, Darwin's a man. Her plumbing's intact, and when she works the repos she dresses like a man, but she says she feels more natural in drag."

All these divergent characters are a backdrop to her parents' story. Clay Bennett's murder is the pivotal event that causes Meg to dig into her family's past. In trying to understand the value of Bennett's metal case, Meg comes to realize that this man spent a lifetime searching based on an erroneous perception. It is this collision of Clay Benton's history with her own that is about to reveal her own misperception. The multiple meaning behind the title keeps on unfolding right up to the last page.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 11 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Iced at MostlyFiction.com



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About the Author:

Jenny Siler, born in 1971, is the daughter of two professors and has spent her life around writers, including her mother, Jocelyn Siler, who has written textbooks and fiction. She attended Phillips Academy for three years on scholarship but lasted only one year at Columbia University before she dropped out opting see life at "the street level." She has worked as a forklift driver, a furniture move, a grape-picker, a salmon-grader, a tutor to deaf students, a waitress, a sketch model, and a bartender. She has lived from Key West to Alaska, but now lives in her beloved hometown of Missoula, Montana. 

Her first novel, Easy Money, received much acclaim including being selected as one of The New York Times 1999 Notable Books of the Year.
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