The first novel in a series by Christine Nolfi starts with a jam. Not the kind you put on toast, but the type of trouble petty thief Birdie Kaminsky seems to often find herself in. Within one second of meeting Birdie, despite her lawless attitude, something clicks. This is a vivid and desperate character.
Birdie hasn’t had much of a chance to advance in life. Her parents were grifters, her father is in prison. She is living the life that a child of felons might be expected to live. And she really, really hates it. So when she needs to flee from yet another town quickly, she decided to follow up an old family legend about buried treasure in Liberty, Ohio. By this point, she’s pretty much out of other options, so she takes a job at the restaurant her fabled relative once owned and begins searching for clues. At first, she can’t help herself from picking some easy pocketbooks. But “something in the small town was infecting her with a bad case of ethics” so she mostly tries to stay straight. Well, until she finds the treasure, absconds with it, and starts life anew.
Because Liberty is such a small town, Birdie has to share the only available accommodations with a newspaper reporter who has spun his own career down to a last chance story, one he really doesn’t want to write. Both Hugh and Birdie have issues with intimacy, and they try mightily to fight their mutual attraction. Hugh’s mostly conquered his demons, and believes his days of hard drinking are over, but the job he’s come to do, and his feelings for Birdie, complicate matters: “When life flowed along, it was easy to stay sober. If the currents were choppy it took every ounce of self-control to resist.” Hugh has tamped down a horrible experience from his past, but returning to Liberty, where the incident took place, tears the wound open. Together, Hugh and Birdie are one hot mess. And yet, the town welcomes them, especially Liberty’s matriarch, Theodora.
The cast of characters is large, the stories of Liberty abundant. I can see Nolfi going far with what she’s started here. Her writing is at times so luminous the sentences seem to glow; her characters have humor, depth and poignancy. Liberty’s story has miles to go and the discerning reader where follow where it leads. Look for the next book in this promising series February 2012.