Friday, April 12, 2002

Slay Me Tender: a mystery

Jenny Scholten
New Victoria Publishers
1892281155, $ 11.95

Twenty five years old, Aubrey is worried about how much longer she can work as an exotic dancer. Her knees are aching and her breasts are sagging. Actually, Aubrey claims they've always sagged. Nevertheless, this awareness of the vulnerability of her likelihood to her physique and the extreme measures other dancers go to, particularly in regard to breast enhancements, are central themes to Slay Me Tender. The novel opens with Naughtylands weekly feature dancer (usually porn stars from out of town), Plushious Velvett, complaining to Aubrey about the hardening the stars very large breast implants. When Plushious disappears, leaving part of her wardrobe and fails to appear at her next scheduled club, Aubrey's natural curiosity gets peaked. Then she finds a gun, dark poems written by Plushious and what appears to be a bloody breast implant in the building where Plushious was staying, Aubrey can't help but start looking into the disappearance.

Scholten portrays the colorful and seamy aspects of the housing shortage in San Francisco and the gentrification of the infamous Tenderloin district with amusing detail. Her strengths are her characters and sense of humor, particularly irony. Aubrey shares a flat with four other people. Its a wonderful, motley group. There's Vivian who is working on her thesis and exploring non-monogamy much to the strain of her relationship with the quiet Zan. There's the beautiful and vibrant artist, Geoffrey who is "tri-sexual" (as in he'll try anything sexual) as well as his current, and frequently present, boyfriend, Gregor-with-the-red-Renault-convertible. And finally, there is shy, neurotic and modest Hugh. With his photographic memory Hugh provides most of the roommates with some fashion accessories from thrift store where he works and looks after everyone including Aubrey's cat, Hodge. Added to Aubrey's regular roommates are the feature dancers who are temporarily staying at Aubrey's place (along with their manager or body guard or girlfriend, etc.). These are just a few of the amusing, yet realistic and compassionately drawn characters in Slay Me Tender.

A fiercely independent young woman of Southern white trash ancestry, Aubrey continues to be ambivalent about her job. She defends the choice of employment. "With what other job could a history major without computer skills make three hundred dollars a day?" (26) When a roommate makes disparaging comments about "those women," she points out that she is a worker in the sex industry. Yet Aubrey is realistic about the potential problems of the job. She worries about how long much longer her body will be "profitable" as a dancer, and the possible dangers of overly friendly customers. She carefully avoids being in debt to the older police officer who is a regular at Naughtyland. Yet she is a constant witness to the victims of the industry's "victimless crimes."

At one point, Aubrey is surprised at her own stereotyping of customers' wives. She realizes that her assumptions are a "buying into the systems" view of these women. Aubreys willingness to self examine, makes her character more attractive. Scholten's sardonic humor takes the bitter edge off the futility of the situation for the residents and workers of the Tenderloin. Despite a range of offers, Aubrey, ironically continues her life of celibacy, futher disrupting those annoying stereotypes of exotic dancers.

This second Aubrey Lyle mystery is better than the first, Day Stripper. The plot flows more smoothly. Scholten creates an interesting hybrid mystery. Her characters and plots have a very traditional amateur sleuth mystery quality. However, her focus on the sex industry and related organized crime are subject matter that is far more typical of "hard boiled" noir detective mysteries. She even manages to incorporate an almost slapstick car chase scene. This combination works for Scholten and makes for often amusing and occasionally provocative reading. I will be looking forward to further developments in Aubrey's world.

-MJ Lowe
BN: New Vic titles are currently available via

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