Greg F. Gifune, Blood in Electric Blue (Delirium Books, 2009)
I’ve been a huge fan of Greg Gifune’s short fiction for almost a decade, since I first read Heretics. Until now, however, my experiences with Gifune had always come in the realm of short fiction; this is the first chance I’ve had to sample one of his novels. It was to my great delight that I found him to be equally proficient with feature-length work. Blood in Electric Blue is short (just over two hundred pages), sharp, well-drawn, and leaves just enough unanswered questions at the end to keep the reader thinking about this one for a long, long time after s/he turns the last page on it.
Plot: Dignon Malloy and his transgendered sister, Willie (it’s never mentioned whether Willie is pre- or post-op, but I always got the feeling she is the latter), grew up in a household that can kindly be called “horrifically abusive”, and both have major problems as a result; Willie is drawn into relationships that mirror those the children had with their father, while Dignon has spent the past two decades mourning the loss of his first, and only, true love. Now Willie lives in a fleabag apartment building in the bad part of town with her newest nasty boyfriend, while Dignon has a small apartment in a slightly nicer section, with a view of the local chemical plant. On indefinite leave from his job after a traumatic event landed him in the arms of the PTSD crowd, Dignon mostly spends his days watching his pretty, punky neighbor Nikki through the bathroom window and haunting used bookstores. It is in the latter pursuit that he happens upon the book Mythical Beings in a Mortal World, which once belonged to a woman named Bree Harper, who wrote her name and phone number inside the front cover. Dignon uses the book as a ruse to meet her, and she turns out to be the epitome of “all this and brains too”. But Bree, as well, comes with baggage, in the form of jealous ex-boyfriend Kyle. Kyle, in one of his confrontations with Dignon, insinuates that Bree is not exactly what she seems to be—and Dignon, when he starts thinking about it, realizes Kyle may in fact not be crazy after all.
To me, the mark of a truly great mystery is not that it keeps you guessing until the end, but that once you get there, you realize you were trying to guess the answers to the wrong questions after all. Gifune doesn’t get quite that far here; the setup for the main mystery is a little too obvious, so you know from the beginning what questions you’re supposed to be asking. But he does manage to keep things interesting by not giving you all the necessary details; not so much that you have to fill in huge pieces of the puzzle, but some of the minor details are left just obscure enough to have you wondering which of the possible answers Gifune had in his head by the time you turn the last page (or if he kept himself from asking those questions in order to be able to truthfully say “I don’t know” if ever asked). This is very good stuff from first page to last. Gifune, it turns out, is equally skilled writing short stories and novels, and I hope I’ll be reading a lot more of both from him in the future. ****