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Red House    by K. j. a. Wishnia order for
Red House
by K. j. a. Wishnia
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2001 (2001)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Wishnia delivers a hard-edged mystery starring Filomena Buscarsela, a hard-boiled chick from Ecuador who's seen it all. She's 'been there done that' from guerrilla warfare back home to a stint as a New York beat cop. Now single mom Filomena works as a trainee (with tons more experience than her boss) for Davis and Brown Investigations, in order to gain the credentials necessary to set up her own PI business.

Unfortunately for Filomena, and luckily for her compatriots, her social conscience works overtime. She has a well of compassion for the immigrant experience. As Filomena muses 'Coming to the U.S. without English is like landing on the moon without a space helmet. It kind of handicaps your movements.' She ends up juggling paid work with freebies for her neighbors, and uncovers suspicious deaths, greedy landlords, expoitation of immigrants, and illegal housing contaminated by mercury vapors.

Filomena has a strong relationship with her teenage daughter and a commitment to her Jewish doctor boyfriend, though their respective schedules make time together rare. It's worth reading the book for the dialogue as much as for the mystery, lines like 'Voting in America isn't democracy, it's damage control'. This is just as well since the myriad of characters and sub-plots are confusing at times.

Overall Red House is not a cheerful mystery. But it does give the reader a good hard look at what life is like for the immigrant poor in the underbelly of a city like New York - and Filomena is a lively, sassy character, one that I hope to meet again.

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