Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Detectives Don't Wear Seat Belts by Cici McNair

Detectives Don't Wear Seat Belts

Detectives Don't Wear Seat Belts
by Cici McNair

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Center Street
First Released: 2009

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Source: ARC from publisher

Back Cover Description:
Growing up in Mississippi, Cici McNair was always more the tomboy her mother supported than the Southern belle her father demanded. She escaped her suffocating upbringing the first chance she had to travel the world. Whether working at the Vatican in Rome or consorting with a gunrunner in Haiti, she lived a life of international adventure. When Cici finds herself in New York, divorced, broke, and fashionably starving to death in a Madison Avenue apartment, she impulsively decides to become a private detective.

But, as Cici soon learns, the world of P.I.s is tight-knit and made up almost exclusively of former law enforcement officers. By nature, they are a highly suspicious group and are especially wary of a newcomer with an untraceable past. Diligently working her way through the Yellow Pages, doggedly pursuing the slightest lead, Cici is finally hired by a private investigator willing to take a chance. The next day she's working side by side with a pair of seasoned detectives and a skip tracer who is scary to meet but like silk on the phone. She quickly realizes she'll need all her energy and wits to succeed in this new world.

Being a private investigator is as exciting and liberating as Cici ever dreamed, from creating a false identity on the spot on her first case in the field to surviving adrenaline-rushing car chases. Working with law enforcement, she goes undercover, dealing with the ruthless Born to Kill gang in Chinatown and the Middle Eastern counterfeiters west of Broadway. A detailed account of the hidden world and real-life cases of a P.I., this action-packed memoir is as entertaining as any detective novel you've ever read.

Detectives Don't Wear Seat Belts is an often-humorous memoir. Cici McNair is a good storyteller. I found the cases to be extremely interesting (just a warning, though, that this book isn't a how-to on detective work) and the humorous parts still have me shaking my head and laughing.

Since all the sections were mixed together, it's hard to tell, but about a third of the book was a rather serious look at her childhood (which included verbal abuse) and her adventurous adulthood before she decided to become a detective. About a third of the book covered various cases she worked: finding missing persons, doing background checks on people or businesses, surveillance, undercover investigations of counterfeit goods, etc. Another third described the people she worked with and gave often-humorous stories about their interactions at the office.

A couple of times, she gave all the information on a case or decision but didn't neatly spell everything out, probably assuming the conclusion was as obvious to the reader as it was to her. I had no problem following what was going on, but this book was a group "out loud" read and one of the three of us couldn't figure out what happened in these cases.

When other people in the story used bad language, the author left it in the dialogue, which means some sections had a great deal of cussing or were otherwise very crude.

Overall, I'd recommend this enjoyable memoir to readers who are interested in detective work or who enjoy reading novels about detectives.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter Twenty-One
I can't tell all my secrets, but I often use confusion to my advantage. A southern accent often soothes an American counterfeiter because many New Yorkers hear it and assume your IQ is sixty-seven points lower than it is. Usually I can get the perp to relax, to show me what he has, to do business with me. Sometimes doors are being closed behind me. Often I notice two-way mirrors and wonder who is watching me from behind them. Sometimes boxes are hurriedly covered with dropcloths and workers leave the room. I try not to look up for security cameras.

Since my own camera might jam or my winter scarf might fall in front of the lens, it was really up to me to notice absolutely everything. It was good to force myself--the daydreamer--to be alert on the different levels.

I use broad brushstrokes, with great good humor. I fly above suspicion; I refuse to acknowledge it. It's all I know how to do. Mickey told me once that it worked for me because deep down I felt I had every right to be there. And, yes, I do think that. Sometimes I've actually gotten so drawn into my own story, I've wondered about calling Delta to confirm that Thursday flight I've mentioned. I talk a blue streak. I chat like there's no tomorrow, admire what they're making, tell them all about myself, whoever I am that day. Though I never got over my stage fright at Vatican Radio, I hear my voice now and can hardly believe it's my own. I am completely calm and entirely alive. I am on their territory and vividly "high" on my awareness of that reality.

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