The Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin Lambert – REVIEW
New Year’s Eve, 1929.
Millie is running the show at the Cloak & Dagger, a swinging speakeasy in the French Quarter, while her aunt is out of town. The new year is just around the corner, and all of New Orleans is out to celebrate, but even wealthy partiers’ diamond earrings can’t outshine the real star of the night: the boy in the red dress. Marion is the club’s star performer and his fans are legion–if mostly underground.
When a young socialite wielding a photograph of Marion starts asking questions, Millie wonders if she’s just another fan. But then her body is found crumpled in the courtyard, dead from an apparent fall off the club’s balcony, and all signs point to Marion as the murderer. Millie knows he’s innocent, but local detectives aren’t so easily convinced.
As she chases clues that lead to cemeteries and dead ends, Millie’s attention is divided between the wry and beautiful Olive, a waitress at the Cloak & Dagger, and Bennie, the charming bootlegger who’s offered to help her solve the case. The clock is ticking for the fugitive Marion, but the truth of who the killer is might be closer than Millie thinks…
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Penguin.
Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
“Marion is proof everybody doesn’t have to fit into the same mould. Proof everybody can be happy if the world just gives them half a chance.”
As soon as I heard about The Boy in the Red Dress I was excited to read it as I love anything set in New Orleans and/or during Prohibition and this includes both. Most of the action takes place at the Cloak & Dagger, a drag club/speakeasy that allows those outside the mainstream to live their truth and experience a measure of freedom. The author evokes such a wonderful atmosphere that it feels like you’re actually there, mingling with the fabulous patrons and staff. A lot of this is down to the authentic speakeasy slang which firmly anchors the narrative in the time period.
“I don’t believe I can be someone else’s centre of gravity…I don’t have enough mass. I feel as if I could float off the earth and disappear.”
Millie is the gutsy main character, bisexual (yes, there’s a bi love triangle!), and living with her lesbian aunt who owns the Cloak and Dagger. She’s forced to become an amateur sleuth after her best friend Marion is accused of murder. Marion is the titular character and a drag performer at the speakeasy. With a hidden past and facing prejudice from the police and other members of society, Marion is an easy target and it’s up to Millie to save him. There’s a wonderfully diverse cast of characters and they all feel fully fleshed-out and authentic. Their dynamic works really well and I love the found family trope which this book employs perfectly.
“If the world didn’t give us a chance, we found a way to take one.”
The plot itself was definitely involving enough to keep me hooked, with twists and turns that kept me guessing and a reveal I didn’t see coming. I sincerely hope the author returns to these characters in the future and we see Millie continuing to solve crimes. Plus I really want to read more about all their fantastic clothes! I also think this would be perfect as a TV series thanks to its atmosphere. The Girl in the Red Dress is pure escapism, with a queer cast, evocative setting, a good-old-fashioned whodunnit, and plenty of glitz and glamour. I’d highly recommend reading this book, especially as a much-needed escape during these trying times.