I’ve stumbled into a book time-warp – many books I’ve read recently seem to be set in the late 1990s. It’s an interesting choice – I wonder if the authors are deliberately trying to set their work in a space before the world changed with everything that happened between 9/11 and Covid. I grew up hearing the adults around me talk about the “simpler time” of their own youth, and I think I’ve reached a stage where I can also reminisce about a relatively more innocent world in which I came of age. As the books I’m reading make clear, sure, we had violence and abductions and environmental disasters – but airport security sure was easier, not to mention we never thought twice about kissing our grandparents at a large family gathering. In any case, the setting doesn’t seem to change much about this particular book except for a handful of references to current events. This story isn’t so much about time as the space and the people inhabiting it.
Real Easy is a mystery / thriller that is primarily set in and around a strip club outside of Chicago, IL. The narrator rotates, giving us the opportunity to experience the events in the story from multiple perspectives. We begin with the perspective of Stephanie (stage name: Ruby). Like most of the women at the club, Stephanie has complicated feelings about her work – she sees it as largely separate from her life, which includes a boyfriend and his daughter, who she loves like her own child. Stephanie is very popular at the club and makes great money, and she takes on more or less a mentorship role with a newer woman at work (stage name: Jolene, mostly). One night Jolene is unable to work, and Stephanie volunteers to bring her home. Neither make it home that night – and when a body is discovered, the rest of novel is devoted to the ensuing investigation and its impact on the club.
It’s a fairly typical thriller – I’d compare this to Lucy Foley or Ruth Ware, and in both of those comparisons I might rate this author a bit higher in terms of quality. For a mystery novel, the writing was more lyrical than I expected (although she’s not Tana French, whose atmospheric novels I adore). The writer’s personal experience with stripping is likely the source of the strong empathy that reads clearly throughout. I thought the multiple perspectives were mostly done well – some characters were given multiple chapters, while others were just present in one or two chapters as their own voice. For some readers, there may ultimately be too much switching to feel very connected to any one narrator. However, the varying perspectives gave the writer the ability to really show attention to detail – a few times, those small resonances across perspectives really played well (as with a reference to an obscure Beetles song, played near a pivotal moment and observed by multiple characters). The payoff with the mystery wasn’t spectacular, but I liked how the book wasn’t just a long wait to get to the payoff – the journey there was much more important. There was obvious care for the women whose lives we were dropping in on.
Trigger warnings abound: this book features a storyline about the death of a child, allusions to abuse, kidnapping and murder. Nothing feels scandalously handled, but if you’re rather sensitive to certain topics I’d avoid this book.