I've had this novel banging about my collection for years, about fifteen or so, and I always wanted to read it, but it always got put aside for something else, and eventually it got packed away and forgotten about. Then I had to look for something else, found a box of forgotten books, and there on top was "Skiptrace" and it got put aside again. This time I decided to make sure that it got read, and I'm glad that I did.
Now, I didn't realize until I had started reading "Skiptrace" that this is a sequel to an earlier novel called "Cass And The Stone Butch" a novel that I haven't read, but would like to someday. But, be that as it may, this is the novel that I read, and this is the one that I'm reviewing. Here Cass Milam has hired Dean Caney to track down Cass' first lover, whom Cass had lost touch of many years ago.
She had hired Dean because of his friendly relationship with Cass and her circle of friends, but then trouble happens. Sandy Marigold, one of Cass' friends has been brutally murdered, and Dean has disappeared.
It then gets worse. It seems that there are witnesses that saw Dean hanging around Sandy's house a lot, and he was there for an extended amount of time on the day when Sandy was killed. Ticked off that she can't get a hold of Dean, and wanting to get a hold of her old lover, and upset over her dependence on a man to do a job that Cass thinks that she can do just as well, she decides to look for her old lover herself. What follows is both a road trip as Cass trucks, literally, across Texas meeting those people who knew her old girlfriend and a cat-and-mouse story in which the killer is shadowing Cass the whole time, and yes, Cass knows that the killer is after her and/or her old lover.
One of the good things about this novel is that Cass is a very likable down-to-earth character, and while she freely admits that she's not the best looking woman out there, she always gets the girl. On the other hand, this is more of a mild thriller and road picture than a mystery, as the identity of the killer is never in doubt, the killer is exactly who you think they are. Yes, Azolakov is making a point about a certain type of person who falls in love with a lesbian or gay who is not either gay or lesbian themselves, but that point is only really made at the end of the novel. The other thing that bothered me was that Cass constantly bandies the term "dyke" around, and while she was writing for a market that wouldn't be bothered by such terms, it's constant use eventually made me uncomfortable, and it also became annoyingly redundant. We know that Cass is a lesbian; we don't need to be reminded of it on a constant basis.
If I had three hands I would say on the other other hand, Azolakov certainly knows how to end a story as it certainly ends with a bang in a hurricane, with cars and tractors, and a fight to the death, all mixed with her quest having a rather heartbreaking conclusion. With a little beefing up of the suspense and a little more mystery as to who the killer was this could easily have been a four star novel. It only earns a three because the suspense should have been strengthened. As far as I know, Antoinette Azolakov has only published three books, her third was a science fiction novel, and that is too bad, as she was a good storyteller, I just think that she needed a stronger editor, and that she could have worked herself into the upper tiers of gay/lesbian mystery/suspense novelists with a few more novels. If you like good character studies mixed with your suspense, and you don't like graphic sex, violence, or gore, and if you like female protagonists in your suspense novels then you will probably raise the now mostly forgotten "Skiptrace" up a star or two as it certainly is for general reading audiences.
ADDENDUM: Having just read "Cass And The Stone Butch" (05-15-11), it's obvious that even though this novel was published first, it is the SECOND of the Cass Milan novels. The events chronicled in "Skiptrace" are referenced, including the first meeting of Cass and Tina, in "Cass And The Stone Butch". Why the sequel was published first is anybody's guess, but it was. "Skiptrace" is actually the first novel and "Cass And The Stone Butch" is the sequel. If you want to read my review of the sequel, go to Cass and the Stone Butch.