In Queenpin, the narrator is drawn to the thrill of danger and crossing the line of illegality. She starts small, cooking the books of a small club, but when underworld legend Gloria Denton takes her under her wing, she blossoms, learning how to banter, dress, deflect attention, spot a tail, and she soaks in her lessons, reveling in her role as Denton’s right hand, enjoying the luxury apartment, designer clothing and accessories, and fashionable automobile.
However, the narrator’s taste in men follow the same pattern, and she takes up with Vic Riordan, a handsome hustler who lost more than he won, who owed more than he earned, and who was just rough enough in bed to keep the narrator interested.
As the narrator gets more entwined in Gloria’s business and more attached to Vic, she also feels a perhaps unearned confidence in her abilities to navigate the underworld. When she’s put in the inevitable position to choose between Vic and Gloria, she still thinks she can play the situation to her advantage and come out on top.
Queenpin is one of Megan Abbott’s earlier works, and it’s not my favorite. The narrator, who remains unnamed, demonstrates the allure of the illicit and the difficulty of denying easy money as well as the rise of the younger generation against the old. But her affection for Vic and his violent tendencies directed towards her made me uncomfortable. Gloria, to me, was the most interesting character, and I thought we didn’t get enough of her in this short novel.
Also, the exact time of the novel isn’t specified but it seems set in the 1950s or 1960s. At this time, women would not typically be given the roles occupied by Gloria and the narrator. Yet, the novel really doesn’t offer any details or commentary on this which I think would have been interesting.
Queenpin is a quick read and worth it for diehard Megan Abbott fans or people really interested in organized crime. It definitely doesn’t have the style that Abbott has developed and is now known for, though.