Longfellow, Ki - The Girl in the Next Room

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The third case of Sam Russo has taught me that I’ll be missing him dearly, should his creator, Ki Longfellow decide that the jig is up. It’s not that the murder mysteries that he gets himself involved in are mind blowing. I wouldn’t call myself an expert in the genre, far from it, but I believe it is safe to say that the mysteries behind the murders are pretty straight forward. It is almost as if the murders are not what these stories are really about.

No, I’ll be missing Sam Russo, and his dog Jane, and his saviour and sidekick Mrs. Willingford because of his typical things and his out-of-placeness. He somehow doesn’t seem to fit in the stories in which he is the main character. He dreams of being Humphrey Bogart, Bogey, or any detective actor of that era, but each time he has to admit that he is just himself. And every time he discovers this, he seems to be okay with it. As he seems to be okay with virtually everything. He remembers his past through horse races. The day, or the week horse this and that won or lost some race, that’s when something memorable in his life happened.


That life of his, growing up in a horror house orphanage, and somehow making his way to adulthood is worth a book on its own. And then there is of course his wisecrack, smart ass way of talking, like Bogey in the movies. Even though much of the subtlety of this is lost on me – not being a born and bred American –, with each instalment I seem to get more and more hooked.

Sam is extremely fond of Holly, his lovely neighbour, who is working in the streets and who in real life is not a woman at all. Or in the wisecrack language of Russo: “she was hung like Flynn”. But this mix up in gender doesn’t bother Sam the least. It simply is no issue at all. Sam’s respect for all people and things out of place is borderless, except when murder is involved. Holly – whose given name is Baby Shauer – chooses her own way of living, and in her case that is a life as a lady.  

This seems to be the common theme in these stories: creatures who are themselves, no matter what society says or thinks or does about it. The dog Jane is a good example. She is a rare African breed and she doesn’t bark but she ‘yodels’. Russo is convinced she talks in what he calls ‘Egyptian’ and that she has more intelligence than most of the humans he reluctantly has to deal with. “One day soon, I expected her to speak perfect English, take up knitting, and use the telephone.” Anyway, Jane is in some subtle way out of place as well, but happy to be who she is, not questioning any of it. And she and Sam are an item, as close an item as they come. “Jane hated rain. I loved rain. It was the only thing we argued about.”

Same thing goes for Mrs. Willingford. Married to the filthy rich Joker Willingford, but devoted to Sam in many different ways. She’s tough, knows exactly what she wants, and spares no expenses to get what she wants or give to whom she wants to give. At some point in this story she tells that she – as a four your old – saw how her drunken father beat her drunken mother to death. This shocks Sam. First because Lois – as he is sometimes allowed to call her – never shows her true inner feelings or her background, and second because he is not sure if she tells the truth. “Either way, Mrs. Willingford was a woman who’d invented herself just as Holly had invented herself.” The best compliment one can receive from Sam.

This inner crowd of characters is – in this third case – hunting down a bunch of murderous freaks, who gather as De Kaars en Bloed consortium. The name is Dutch for The Candle and Blood Society. Every now and then they pick up three hookers in an extravagant car, a Lagonda. In a faraway house they have their way with them, after which they matter of factly murder them. Holly miraculously escaped her own murder. And anyone who touches Holly, or Jane or Mrs. Willingford for that matter, has Sam Russo to answer to.

Just as in the other cases it is a matter of running along with what happens to Sam Russo. Of course he occasionally has an idea of how to move forward, but overall it mainly happens to him. When he finds the house of this sick consortium, he makes mistake upon mistake and goes in without any plan really. In this story he is helped by Mickey Cates – also a character that deserves his own series – and his gang of Irish thuds. An unpleasant, gangster like character, who gradually turns out to be not so bad at all.  

After the last page the case is solved, not merely thanks to Sam Russo, but who cares. I had the luxury of being in the company of him and his tolerant inner crowd for the duration of some 280 pages. Happily a fourth adventure is on the way. I’d almost say to Ki Longfellow: ‘Forget about the third part of your Gnosis series (the sequel to The Secret Magdalene and Flow Down Like Silver), and keep on writing about Sam Russo, his magnificent memory of horse races, Jane and Mrs. Willingford.’ Almost…

Read: July 2013

The Lagonda from the bookcover
The Lagonda from the bookcover