Reviewed by Cullen Gallagher
I’m a sucker for great first lines, and Jan Christensen’s “Going Where the Wind Blows” begins with this stellar hook: “It wasn’t that she liked whoring. But what else could a gal do?” The voice of her main character, Rita Mae Wilson, is immediately apparent, as are the qualities that will guide her through the story: street-smart resourcefulness, world-weary resilience, and a complete absence of sentimentality—not to mention a sense of humor about the bad hand of cards that life sometimes deals you.
Nothing says Western Noir more than a female bank robber-turned-prostitute, and that’s exactly who Rita Mae is. She came to San Francisco with her man, Bill, to knock over some banks, when he was suddenly shot dead in the lobby of their hotel. He had all their money, and whoever killed him also robbed him. So, the penniless Rita Mae took to turning tricks until she could locate the killer, and their bankroll. But, as in all noir—even out West—finding the truth comes at a price that might not be worth paying.
“Going Where the Wind Blows” is a strong story with a fittingly noir twist waiting for Rita Mae at the end of her journey. What makes the story so compelling is Rita Mae’s voice, which is so clearly defined straight from the get-go. One of my favorite lines is her description of Bill’s unfortunate fate: “He had the temerity to be shot dead in the lobby of the Occidental Hotel where they were staying, quite properly, in separate rooms.” Rita Mae may recognize how bleak her situation is, but she’s never without an appreciation for irony. The narrative is tight and well-constructed, and it’s a sign of the story’s skill that when I finished I wished it had been longer. The plot and character elements are strong enough to support a longer piece or to expand into novella (or more). Here’s hoping that Christensen revisits the life of Rita Mae in the near future.
Jan Christensen is a prolific writer of short fiction and non-fiction whose publication credits include Spinetingler, Mysterical-e, Crooked, and Flashshot, and her novel Sara’s Search is available as an eBook for Kindle. For more information visit her website: http://www.janchristensen.com/