Death of a Kootch Show Girl
by Corey Recko
Black Opal Books, 276 pp., $13.99
February 25, 2017
Buy the book: http://amzn.to/2qaO2WC
Before I was able to get far into Death of a Kootch Show Girl, I was constantly reminded of the Tom Waits’ song Christmas Card from A Hooker in Minneapolis. I suppose the two titles and the throwaway terms for prostitutes linked them together in my mind. Waits’ song is about a Minneapolis prostitute who writes a former john to tell him she’s pregnant, gotten herself clean, and is loved by a wonderful guy who takes care of her – until the devastating finale of the song in which she admits that she made the whole thing up and is rotting in prison without the money to even pay for a lawyer.
We like to believe in the ideal that every human life has equal value and in our hearts, we may believe that, but the terms we use for people and the way we treat them reveal that most of us never take that ideal too seriously. Lurking in the background of Death of a Kootch Show Girl is that same reality: some people don’t really matter to others.
The book is about the aftermath of the murder of a stripper as an Ohio carnival prepares to close in 1953. The narrator of the events that follows switches between a journalist, a carnival worker, the carnival owner, the Chief of Police, and a stripper. I would not be surprised if Recko used the Japanese film Rashomon as inspiration for the book. That movie was about the death of a samurai, the rape of his wife, and the contradictory testimony that witnesses of the crime give. The device is put to appropriate use in the book and suits the material.
After the investigation fails to turn up promising leads, the Chief of Police loses interest in expending substantial resources for the death of a stripper. Unlike Rashomon, which at is core is a movie about the subjectiveness of truth and how historical memory is corrupted, Death of a Kootch Show Girl is, at its core, a book about the value of lives and how our institutions regularly diminish that value.
The book is an entertaining read and is likely to keep your attention as you piece together the mystery in your mind and attempt to determine the killer. It also features an ending that is genuinely likely to surprise you. Our only complaint about the book is that at times the characters as individuals seem less developed than they could be. There are many moments when it appears that the author has devoted too much energy to ensuring the characters are placed accurately in the 1950s and too little time developing them as human beings.
Having said that, if you enjoy mystery writing, there is a very good chance that you will enjoy Death of a Kootch Show Girl.