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Pickle Me This

February 6, 2020

Don’t Look Down, by Hilary Davidson

Oh, give me a great novel in February, a book to get lost in, a book that has me spending the whole day anticipating the point when I can get back to it and find out what’s going to happen next, because I’ve got absolutely no idea. New York-based Canadian crime writer Hilary Davidson’s latest novel, Don’t Look Down, was that book for me this week, such an absolute pleasure.

It begins with Jo Greaver, the young CEO of a successful cosmetics company, who’s on her way to a dilapidated apartment building for a meeting with whomever has been blackmailing her with photos and videos from her troubled past. She’s got a bagful of cash and she’s also got a gun, and then the encounter turns violent, she’s got no choice but to use it, escaping down the fire escape to save her life.

When NYPD Detective Sheryn Sterling arrives on the case, it all looks pretty simple. There’s a dead guy and he’s got Jo Greaver’s card in his pocket. When Greaver finally surrenders to authorities, all the pieces seem to line up, and she’s going to be charged with the murder of Andray Baxter, the man whose body was found in the apartment. But of course, nothing is simple and Sheryn Sterling knows that. She’s also still thinking about her teenage son who had the day before been arrested at a protest against the deportation of illegal immigrants. The thirst for her justice that drives her, Sheryn knows, could get her son into all kinds of trouble, and as a Black policewoman and as the mother of a Black boy, the stakes for her are very complicated.

Don’t Look Down is the kind of book you can point to when people cry CENSORSHIP at scrutiny of how stories about characters who are Black or people of colour are being told (and by whom). Because the fact is not that a white author can’t do it, but instead that she has to do it so well, and I think that Davidson really does in this novel, which engages smartly and thoughtfully with race and racism. White is not the default for Davidson’s characters, which a reader would expect from any halfway decent novel set in New York City—Sterling’s partner is Latinx, a key witness is Thai, Jo Greaver’s vice-president is Chinese-American, her lawyer has a Japanese surname. (This is just a handful of examples.) These choices are thoughtful and interesting, and a reflection of the world as it is.

The story is twisty and absorbing, and I had no idea how it was all going to turn out. Deftly plotted, it did not even begin to get a little bit silly and over-the-top until close to the end, which is altogether forgivable. The writing was great, dialogue fun and snappy, and the pacing never missed a beat. Don’t Look Down was delightful, and everything I want in a read.

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