Aptaker, Ann. “Criminal Gold”, Bold Strokes Books, 2014.
Cantor Gold is a lesbian smuggler of fine art who lives her life openly and since the novel is set in 1949 that is quite an accomplishment. Most of us have not had the chance to live openly until quite recently so we can see Cantor as a woman ahead of her time. “Criminal Gold” is set in New York City and we meet Cantor at the harbor as she waits in her boat under the Brooklyn Bridge. She is waiting for Gregory Ortine, a racketeer. Ortine is to throw Cantor a satchel of cash, and she is to toss him a pouch containing a priceless jewel. However, things did not work according to plan. A woman in a red sequined dress suddenly falls from the bridge and right onto Cantor’s boat. The woman is Opal Shaw, a darling of the upper set and the society pages and she is to marry the murder-for-hire kingpin Sig Loreale. What ensues is a night of danger, desire, and double-cross. Cantor must “satisfy Loreale’s vengeance as well as stay ahead of an angry Ortine, and untangle the knots of murder tightening around Opal’s best friend and keeper of her dirty secrets, Celeste Copley, a seductress who excites Cantor’s passion but snares her in a labyrinth of lies”. So we see that this is a noire novel with a sexual twist.
I did not find the novel to be so much about crime as it was about being oneself. Cantor insists on living openly; she is a free woman because she has taken her freedom and this is much unlike those of us who had to fight t live openly as we do.
Obviously Aptaker had to do research to write this book and it is amazing how well she recreated a time now gone. The year is important for if Cantor had just been a smuggler she was a criminal but at that time to be openly gay was considered a criminal offense. Cantor narrates the story so we see it through her eyes (or better said, from a lesbian perspective). There are several subplots but the writing is so smooth that the story is easy to follow. Because I classify it as a noir novel we also have the usual properties that go along with the genre—
murder, car chases, struggles, drinking, etc. But because this is a mystery I cannot elaborate on the plot for to do so would spoil a read. This is author Aptaker’s first novel and if this is an indication of what she can do, we need to welcome her to the canon of gay literature.