Ivy Pochoda is not as prolific as many of her contemporaries in crime fiction, but she is arguably one of the most unique and distinctive voices in the genre. Case in point, her new novel Sing Her Down is a compact (288 pages), tightly wound juggernaut of a narrative briming with new insights and fresh observations about female relationships, gendered wrath, and social inequities.
In Sing Her Down, Ivy Pochoda has crafted two fierce women who will forevermore be considered iconic characters in crime fiction’s evolution. Florence “Florida” Baum and Diana Diosmary Sandoval are simultaneously very similar and utterly unique, a dichotomous union that seems almost impossible to create and even harder to navigate. Their complex dynamic is rooted in their histories—both independent and shared—and once the reader has traveled only a few pages with them, that bond—between the real and the fictional—is forged for life.
The early chapters of Sing Her Down, which are set in an Arizona women’s prison, establish the gritty tenor that will continue throughout the novel. Fans of shows like the vintage Prisoner: Cell Block H and the more recent Orange is the New Black will find themselves in familiar territory here, but Pochoda manages to circumvent the expected even in these early sections, almost forcing her readers to take a new look at these stereotypes and shattering illusions about the types of roles women are “allowed” to play.
Dios knows the truth about Florida (or at least thinks she does) and she seems hellbent on making sure everyone else realizes it as well—including Florida herself. When the Covid pandemic leads the prison system to opt for allowing some prisoners early release to stem the spread of the virus, both Dios and Florida are included, setting into motion an outside confrontation that was destined to happen eventually. The cat-and-mouse chase between these women, further complicated by the detective hot on their trail, fuels the action, keeping the novel’s pages turning at lightning speed.
Ivy Pochoda takes readers on a journey—from prison, first to a seedy motel, and then to the very streets of Los Angeles—in an effort to demonstrate how life in prison and life in general often aren’t that different for these women. Through multiple points of view, Pochoda skillfully portrays the building anger that resides in the souls of these women—and maybe by extrapolation, most women—due to the pressures of societal expectations, attitudes, and governance. While the writing almost sings in a poetic manner, the sizzling underbelly of frustration and fury boils until an explosion is the only possible net result.
Sing Her Down is a violent book. Ivy Pochoda has crafted a noir gem—blackened coal that ultimately becomes a diamond while under extreme pressure. Despite the slimness of the volume, the reading experience is an intense journey that may not be right for all readers. But for those who do venture along with Florida and Dios, the destination proves worthy of the perilous path. There is no telling what Ivy Pochoda will write next, but her many fans—new and old—will be anxiously awaiting its release.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.