Someone killed Bill, and whoever it was stole all the money.
Rita Mae came to San Francisco in the late 1800s with her man to find a better life, never mind the fact that said new life involved plans to rob a few banks. When Bill is murdered, Rita Mae starts turning tricks while she tries to find the killer and, even more importantly, the bankroll. When her new job results in her involvement in yet another murder, Rita Mae discovers her problems are only just beginning.
Sometimes a gal just can’t win.
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Excerpt from Going Where the Wind Blows
Soon the sheriff arrived, bent over Bill and pronounced him dead. He’d straightened up slowly, looked her up and down, then led her over to a corner of the lobby were they sat facing each other while he questioned her.
He was one of those skinny men who grows a paunch as they get older. She thought he was perhaps forty. He wore scuffed boots, tan pants with gun holster on his worn belt, a blue shirt with no collar, a navy vest, and a cowboy hat rimmed with sweat, which he held on his knee as they talked.
“Rita Mae Wilson.”
“You’re new in town. Where you from?”
“Name of the victim was Bill Reynolds. You came to San Francisco with him?”
“Yes. We were going to get married next week.” Rita Mae took an embroidered handkerchief from the cuff of her sleeve and dabbed her eyes. She noticed the sheriff wore a gold wedding band.
He gave her a skeptical look. “What was Mr. Reynolds planning to do in San Francisco?”
Well, she couldn’t tell the sheriff that Bill and she planned to rob a few banks. Thou shalt not steal. Her mother’s voice was counterbalanced in her head by Bill’s. But it’s so much fun, isn’t it? “We were on vacation,” she told the sheriff primly.
Rita Mae has only been working as a prostitute for a short time, but she can usually tell at a glance what whether or not someone has good intentions. Why, then, is she having so much trouble figuring out who killed her fiancé?
In a few short sentences, I formed a strong opinion about the type of person Rita Mae was and to what extent I believed her version of what happened to Bill. I wasn’t expecting to like her so much, but Rita Mae turned out to be my favourite character in this piece because of her refusal to judge others in the same ways they judged her for being a prostitute. The snippets of background information that leaked into certain scenes rounded out her character without slowing the plot down. We were given more than enough hints about Rita Mae’s early life to figure out why she made the decisions she did, but I still wished there could be more flashbacks to her childhood. She clearly had a memorable one, and while it wasn’t relevant to this story I found myself wanting to learn more about her life.
I figured out who the killer was early on in this tale, but the author whipped out a few plot twists at the last moment that made me gasp. In retrospect they make perfect sense, but it was delightful to be surprised in that manner just as I assumed the plot had revealed all of its juiciest secrets.
Going Where the Wind Blows is a tightly woven mystery that left me wishing for more. This is a great choice for anyone who prefers a subtle, intelligent approach to excavating clues and doesn’t mind being surprised by an unusual ending.
I’m a sucker for great first lines, and Jan Christensen’s “Going Where the Wind Blows” begins with this stellar hook: “It wasn’t that she liked whoring. But what else could a gal do?” The voice of her main character, Rita Mae Wilson, is immediately apparent, as are the qualities that will guide her through the story: street-smart resourcefulness, world-weary resilience, and a complete absence of sentimentality, not to mention a sense of humor about the bad hand of cards that life sometimes deals you.
Nothing says Western Noir more than a female bank robber-turned-prostitute, and that’s exactly who Rita Mae is. She came to San Francisco with her man, Bill, to knock over some banks, when he was suddenly shot dead in the lobby of their hotel. He had all their money, and whoever killed him also robbed him. So, the penniless Rita Mae took to turning tricks until she could locate the killer, and their bankroll. But, as in all noir–even out West–finding the truth comes at a price that might not be worth paying.
“Going Where the Wind Blows” is a strong story with a fittingly noir twist waiting for Rita Mae at the end of her journey. What makes the story so compelling is Rita Mae’s voice, which is so clearly defined straight from the get-go. One of my favorite lines is her description of Bill’s unfortunate fate: “He had the temerity to be shot dead in the lobby of the Occidental Hotel where they were staying, quite properly, in separate rooms.” Rita Mae may recognize how bleak her situation is, but she’s never without an appreciation for irony. The narrative is tight and well-constructed, and it’s a sign of the story’s skill that when I finished I wished it had been longer. The plot and character elements are strong enough to support a longer piece or to expand into novella (or more). Here’s hoping that Christensen revisits the life of Rita Mae in the near future.
Spinetingler Magazine reviewer
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