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Hit Woman

Eric Jerome Dickey: back with a new novel; back in his hometown.

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Hard to be halfway honest in an all-the-way wicked world," Big Guy says to the 21-year-old woman known simply as MX-401, who'd broken Big Guy's nose to show she wants the money she has coming. But Big Guy doesn't have the money. Or any money. He's just had his construction site on Barbados robbed of building materials, and do you know how much it costs to import top-shelf windows and doors to the island?

MX-401, hit woman for hire and quick-change artist extraordinaire, doesn't care. She needs the money owed to her by the outfit she's working for, the Barbarians, and she needs not one passport but six in order to keep her covered. Big Guy can get her the passports, no problem. It's the money that's the problem. But it's not MX-401's problem, so she pulls out a pruning saw and threatens to cut off one of Big Guy's fingers. That's nothing, though, compared to what happened to the ex-soccer player MX-401 once met in Barbados: He was later found with the back of his neck cut open, which made it easier to remove his spine.

Very tough times all around, then, and, according to MX-401, "Bad luck was all I had had since I came to the bottom of the West Indies," and what an understatement. Before Barbados, MX-401, aka Reaper (though her mother called her Goldie), was in Trinidad, again doing dirty work for the Barbarians against the Laventille Killers, an organization devoted to improving the daily lives of West Indians but equally adept at smuggling drugs and offing anybody who gets in their way.

Karleen Ramjit, aka Diamond Dust, heads the LKs, and in the popular imagination, she's a combination Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, and Eva Peron. The fact that her brother (and fellow LK member) is known as King Killer and her husband's called War Machine should give you a better idea of Diamond Dust's true and ruthless nature. Her favorite reading material? The works of Ayn Rand. And the best-selling writer at the bottom of all this, in the new thriller A Wanted Woman (Dutton)? Native Memphian and occasional Californian Eric Jerome Dickey.

Except, on the day I gave Dickey a call he wasn't in California. He was in Barbados, which is where, when he's not on the road (which is often), he's lived for the past year. California, he began by saying, is simply "where my mortgage lives."

"I came down here to just enjoy it," Dickey, who grew up in Memphis, graduated from the University of Memphis, then moved to California to work as an engineer before turning to writing, said. "For a long time I wanted to get out of the States, and through writing I've been able to see so much of the world. I want to see even more of it."

When asked about the violence in A Wanted Woman, Dickey admitted it's rough, but he also said look at today's headlines:

"The Laventille is an area of Trinidad you don't go into. Like the favelas in Brazil, no taxi will take you there. You're on your own. But when I was writing this story, there were times when I thought maybe I am being too harsh. Then I'd look at the local newspapers."

And no two ways about it: MX-401/Reaper/Goldie can be violent. The character, white-skinned but born of black parents, was bullied growing up in South Memphis. Her Bajan father, Old Man Reaper, left mother and child to fend for themselves. And her mother was murdered when Goldie was 12. It's her father who takes Goldie, already numb to the violence around her, to California, and it's he who sharpens her survival skills to deadly perfection.

A Wanted Woman isn't nonstop action all the time, however. There's room here for some peace and quiet — time for Goldie to reflect on the man she left behind, on the life she's chosen to lead, and on the home she doesn't have. It's a perspective — a woman's perspective — Dickey is good at describing, and his large following knows it.

"From her Southern roots to California, she's been shuffled around with no place to call home, no place to go back to, but she longs to," Dickey said of his wanted woman.

That's not the case with Dickey himself. He returns to Memphis when he can. And in addition to a grown daughter here, he has an extended family to see. He hopes to be seeing them and all his local fans at a signing for A Wanted Woman at the Booksellers at Laurelwood on Friday, April 18th, at 6 p.m. He'll also be keynote speaker at the Central Library's Bookstock book festival on April 26th.

Put Eric Jerome Dickey's extended Memphis family together, and according to the author, "we could fill an auditorium. I always look forward to returning to Memphis. Home is always home. I come back, and I'm still that kid who went to school at Riverview."

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