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Posted: October 10, 2021

A good debut for Halley Sutton

Book Review

By Derryll White

Sutton, Halley (2020).  The Lady Upstairs.

This is Halley Sutton’s first published novel.  The setting is Los Angeles and the opening scene is reflective of all the news coming out of Hollywood these past years – big shot movie producer sexually assaulting a beautiful movie extra.  Instantly the reader’s focus is on the privileged cheaters and assholes who never heard a “no.”

Sutton uses a particular language to set scenes.  She is precise, detailed but reaching for an emotional response.  Not Raymond Chandler but she does take the reader into the slightly sleazy side of the Hollywood hustle.  They are not the kind of dives one finds in Whitefish or Nelson.

This is a story with many twists and turns. There is a clear undertone of gender issues – women exploited, men wielders of money and power. But Halley Sutton goes beyond #MeToo, investigating how women use power, use men to achieve their own ends even as they are being exploited by the males.  The author is careful with her craft, offering glimpses of how the characters might reveal themselves, but keeping the true reveal for the very end of the story.

‘The Lady Upstairs’ is a good debut for Halley Sutton.  I will look for more from her.

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Excerpts from the novel:

LOVE – “It was a job.  He is a job.  Listen, love is a thing men invented as a convenient excuse when they’re done fucking women they can’t stand.  Sorry, toots, no more hide-the-salami, can’t help it, don’t love you anymore.  Not my fault.  You see?  Jesus Christ.”

A BAR – No, wait, she knew exactly the place: a tonga-hutted skid mark not far from the St. Leo.  I met her there, a hole-in-the-wall terror of a tiki bar, walls painted a ghastly labial pink, canned thrums of an absent ukulele clogging the air.

Lou had a knack for finding the last place I’d ever want to go.

LOS ANGELES – When I’d first moved to Los Angeles, I’d hated everything about the city, the traffic, the people.  Everything.  Los Angeles was an endless appetite, ninety-two smaller cities stapled together and bulldozing everything in its path.  Ever with my doors locked tight, I could feel the city trying to make its way in – the Santa Anas sweeping through freshly soldered seams, pale afternoon light spilling through blinds zipped shut, the sight of beautiful people on every corner turning you inside out against yourself.  In the beginning, living in Los Angeles was like having a constant spotlight shining on you and at the same time like being invisible.

VIRGINITY – Virginity can make a woman sound interesting to a certain kind of man, but it’s an interest you can never earn back once you’ve spent it.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.


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