This was a little on the nose in parts (mostly dialogue), but it was also full of spit and vinegar. I could feel Courtney Milan’s rage (tempered with good humor) on every page, and it wasn’t an incoherent rage, more like a well-harnessed one. The rest of her body of work shows compassion for men caught up in the same patriarchal system that puts women at an inherent disadvantage, but I guess she just needed let this one rip, just let out a pure expression of feminine rage. That it’s elderly, lonely, queer feminine rage makes it all the better. Terrible Nephew (the antagonist of the piece) is truly terrible and you do not feel sorry for him in the least, nor are you meant to.
Bertrice Martin is a wealthy widow whose terrible nephew has caused Violetta Beauchamps to lose her job, and her pension (actually, her employer had been looking for an excuse not to have to pay it). Violetta, who at the age of sixty-nine has very few prospects for employment, approaches the formidable Mrs. Martin hoping to (swindle) some money out of her. She presents herself as the owner of the boarding house where Terrible Nephew rents rooms, rooms which he hasn’t paid rent for in over two years. In fact, she only manages the property for her employer, the same employer that insisted they let Terrible Nephew stay on, in the hopes that when he comes into his inheritance they will be able to milk him for money, the same employer who then fired Violetta when it became clear that wasn’t happening. Still, she lies, and when Bertrice and she go on their “adventure” (which involves doing irritating crime at Terrible Nephew), this lie becomes a sticking point in their relationship. Especially when it becomes clear that the two women might otherwise develop a close, romantic relationship.
I will confess that I didn’t appreciate their adventures as much as others have, because it was making me anxious that all the crime they were doing was going to get them in serious trouble. I kind of wish their vengeance had involved more cleverness in the realm of legality and less bedlam involving animals and destruction of property. But that’s really more for my sake than the narrative’s.
When they weren’t being mischievous devils, they were being quite sweet with one another. Bertrice has money and a certain amount of influence, but all of her friends have died, including her lover, and she has been depressed for years. Violetta is also lonely, and has been her entire life. She is not pretty and knows it, and her only family (whom she cared for financially) has died. Her life is a constant barrage of loneliness combined with anxiety about money. Violetta is poor. Some of the most pointed moments in the book involved Violetta’s existence challenging Bertrice’s view of the world.
All in all, not perfect, but definitely worth a read.