Thursday, May 23, 2024

"Powered by sharp prose and insights" - review of SING HER DOWN

SING HER DOWN by Ivy Pochoda (MCD, 2023)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Florence “Florida” Baum is not the hapless innocent she claims to be when she arrives at the Arizona women’s prison—or so her ex-cellmate Diosmary Sandoval keeps insinuating.

Dios knows the truth about Florida’s crimes, understands what Florence hides even from herself: that she was never a victim of circumstance, an unlucky bystander misled by a bad man. Dios knows that darkness lives in women too, despite the world’s refusal to see it. And she is determined to open Florida’s eyes and unleash her true self.

When an unexpected reprieve gives both women their freedom, Dios’s fixation on Florida turns into a dangerous obsession, and a deadly cat-and-mouse chase ensues from Arizona to the desolate streets of Los Angeles.

While Ivy Pochoda was born and bred in New York City, the award-winning novelist’s recent works have earned her a deserved place among the leading lights of modern ‘California Noir’. A few years ago, I was pointed towards Pochoda’s Wonder Valley by none other than Los Angeles crime king Michael Connelly during an interview we were doing. That book, which was full of characters who tore at your heart and soul, such as a young man searching for his mother on Skid Row and a former college sports start searching for a new life on a desert commune, fully delivered.

Like Connelly, Pochoda takes readers into the grit and tough realities that lie beneath the glamorous So-Cal veneer that's packaged and presented to global audiences. Edgar nominee These Women followed, a remarkable mystery about the lives and deaths of LA sex workers that deep-dived into the people often overlooked and unseen, ignored or dismissed by wider society. Now, Sing Her Down, another ferocious read about violence and women. Women who’ve suffered violence, and women who commit violence. 

Florence ‘Florida’ Baum is an inmate at Arizona women’s prison, but she’s not the innocent victim of circumstance that she claims to be, a party girl led astray by a bad man – at least according to her former cellmate Diosmary ‘Dios’ Sandoval. Dios ruthlessly embraces the darkness that can also live within women, and is set on getting Florida to admit her true self. Even if her own background isn’t as badass as she portrays. A fellow prisoner’s death further connects Florida and Dios, and when they go on the lam from COVID quarantine after an early release, a deadly cat-and-mouse game takes them to a showdown on eerily quiet streets of pandemic era Los Angeles. Meanwhile a female LAPD officer, Lobos, is on their trail while dealing with her own questions about male violence and control, and female rage and violence. 

Pochoda crafts a real frontier noir feel in Sing Her Down, a tale of women on the margins, victims and victimisers, and the rage and violence that can exist within. This is a compelling tale that traverses a stark landscape of prison, desert, global pandemic, and homeless encampments. Modern life veering towards Mad Max. Powered by sharp prose and insights, this thrilling tale of two indelible women on a collision course is hard to put down and even harder to forget.  

An excellent read, highly recommended.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned writer, editor, podcast host, and event chair. He's the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards, co-founder of Rotorua Noir festival, author of Macavity and HRF Keating Award-shortlisted non-fiction work SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, editor of the DARK DEEDS DOWN UNDER anthology series, and writes about books for magazines and newspapers in several countries.

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