It’s 1967 and Vera Kelly’s boss tells her, “You’re in violation of your employment contract. We can’t keep people on staff who live that way.” Ironically, Vera breaks up with her lover Jane on the same day.
She decides to put her skills as a former CIA agent to use and opens her own private investigation business “just off Union Square.” Vera’s new clients are Mr. and Mrs. Ibarra, who claim to be the aunt and uncle of a boy called Félix. He had been living with his parents, Dionisio and Altagracia Ibarra, in Santo Domingo during an American invasion. To keep him safe, Félix’s parents sent him to New York; they were put in prison.
Vera becomes determined to find Félix, and thus begins her first important, and dangerous, case.
She begins her search working undercover as a case worker at Saint Jerome’s School for Boys in Westchester, where she learns Félix has probably lived. The school reminds Vera of her own past experience as a teenager after she took her mother’s car following a disagreement that got physical and the police picked her up. Vera had taken the best escape route she knew.
When Vera gets all the information she can about Félix, she leaves the job. She continues to be very adept at escape routes.
She spends a lot of time on her own but in her off-hours, likes to go to the Bracken, her “old haunt in the Village,” where she rather likes Max, the woman bartender. Following a raid one evening, they run off together for the night. Both were “in high femme gear.” As Vera says, “Cops in the Village, even the vice squad, were blind to femmes. They arrested butches in droves.”
The author does well with describing New York settings, Vera’s solitary days in her sparsely-furnished house, and the dark and ominous nature of the late sixties.
As any intrepid female PI would do, Vera takes off for the Dominican Republic to look for Félix and his parents. Balaguer is president and his “violent repression had reached such a peak that no one was safe on the island.” Vera meets a nice guy there, Nick, a gay man who is a mystery as well as helpful.
Vera gets into some dangerous territory as she goes to the Ibarra home to question the servants who still live there. She tells the police she works for a movie studio as “the assistant to a location scout.” The situation becomes extremely tense, as was the case in Rosalie Knecht’s earlier novel Who is Vera Kelly?
The historical aspects of living queer in New York City in 1967, the other violent oppression that was the Dominican Republic, and the heartwarming aspects of people helping one another out are all part of this intriguing novel. I definitely want to hear more about the undercover adventures of Vera Kelly.