One of the perks of this gig is that books just come to my door. Sometimes that’s not a good thing, but many times I find out about authors who may have been around but haven’t come to my attention before, and that’s the case with Barbara Wilson. She’s a Lammy winning author, but since the Lambda Literary Awards started merging categories years ago, they’ve fallen off my radar. Unless the winner is a friend of mine, the names generally go in one ear and out the other, so I’ve missed Barbara Wilson until now. Luckily, however, I’ve discovered her lesbian literary translator/amateur detective, Cassandra Reilly, in the low-key yet suspenseful Not the Real Jupiter.
Itinerant translator Cassandra Reilly is working on a manuscript for her tempermental friend, author Luisa Monteflores, in Monteflores’s apartment in Uruguay. Monteflores is incensed, however, by the proposed cover. Reilly agrees to travel to Oregon to meet the publisher, Giselle Richard, and try to negotiate a solution. But the publisher winds up dead at the bottom of a bluff near her house, and Reilly finds herself under suspicion and unable to travel until she’s cleared. She begins her own investigation, encountering a children’s author, a surly business/life partner, and an amorous librarian seeking a one night stand, all of whom helping her in her effort to solve the mystery so she can go home. Wherever that is.
I found this interesting for a few reasons, not the least of which was that it contained lots of information about literary translators. Although I know a couple, I never really stopped to think of the precision and talent involved in what they do. You’d think as a writer myself, I’d have more of an appreciation in choosing le mot juste, but somehow I never thought of it as an art. But it is. And Wilson portrays Reilly as a woman who’s passionately committed to that art. I also loved the fact that Reilly is past retirement age, yet has never slowed or settled down. Her restless nature informs her sleuthing ability.
But Reilly isn’t the only interesting character here. I also enjoyed the time spent with Nora, a children’s author instrumental in solving the mystery as she was not only friends with Giselle but with Giselle’s mother, Pauline. Very much like Cassandra, Nora is fiercely independent and perfectly content to live out her “golden years” pursuing her career–as is Arlene, the librarian who desperately wants to shag Cassandra. It’s probably not much of a spoiler to say she accomplishes her goal, and both women go their separate ways, happy for the contact but neither willing to take it further. Now, that’s empowering.
The mystery itself takes quite a few turns before finally unraveling, with no help at all from the police. But this is Reilly’s show, and Wilson runs with it, taking full advantage of her gift for plotting and pacing as she leads the reader down one or another garden path before gently guiding you back on track. This is a fine whodunit with sturdy, interesting characters and is well worth your time.
© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler