After the title page of Patricia Abbott’s Shot in Detroit, the novel’s synopsis describes the story as  “A riveting novel of psychological suspense….” Hmm. Riveting. As in completely engrossing? Not so much. Suspense? Not the gotta stay up all night to find out what happens next kind. Perhaps a better description would be a novel with an interesting premise, somewhat intriguing characters and a few psychological turns.

Violet Hart is a freelance photographer with low self-esteem, nearing her 40th birthday, and looking for a way to pump up her sagging professional résumé. Her most recent photo exhibit (Detroit apartment buildings in various states of implosion) fails and is cancelled. Ted, the art show curator, stops by Vi’s place to give her the bad news, but only after a quickie in Vi’s bedroom replete with a large and heavy mirror hung on the ceiling. Chekov aficionados take note!

Vi finds a new topic for artistic photographic exploration when her lover Bill, an African-American mortician, asks Vi to take a photo of a deceased young man whose overseas family wants a keepsake because they cannot attend the funeral. In shooting the photo, Vi is impressed with Bill’s expertise and artistry in dressing and prepping his deceased customers. Voila, the idea blooms for a new exhibit featuring African-American males from Bill’s funeral home.

(SPOILER ALERT) The rest of the story plays out around the waxing and waning of Vi and Bill’s affair, Vi’s artistic musings about photographing dead people, and her short and strange friendship with aspiring performance artist Derek whom she meets on Belle Isle. Derek’s murder is the only mystery in the story, which happens half-way through the book (Vi is briefly considered a suspect and the killer is caught). This sub-plot seems tacked on, (an editor’s after-thought?) in order to give the novel more “suspense.”

But the most glaring and hard to accept odd turn of events in the book occurs when Bill, reclining in bed post-coitus, is instantly killed when that pendulous mirror on the ceiling heeds gravity. Vi, upon rushing into the bedroom and discovering his lifeless body, picks up her camera, PUTS MAKEUP ON HIM, and then photographs him. I threw the book across the room. Later Vi explains her behavior with the time-worn I was in shock, even though during the scene there is nothing to indicate this is the case.

Vi is a flawed and yes I’ll say it, unlikeable, character. One of her most annoying habits is her constant questions to herself about what she’s doing or thinking or saying. Her relentless insecurity calls to mind a woman who is in her late teens or maybe early twenties, not someone on the cusp of 40. Perhaps this is supposed to be a character study about a woman who is a loser on many levels, and if so, the author succeeds. Vi suffers for her art, but more than anything she never seems to get anywhere (although her dead men photos exhibit is a hit, which seems fitting since it’s creepy and her exploitation of them is something she questions over and over). Abbott leaves the reader wondering if a truly unlikeable character can be considered a protagonist and if so, she opens up a new field of inquiry for fiction writers.

On a scale of one to ten, I rate this book a four.