Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You
by Laurie Lynn Drummond
Published by HarperCollins
272 pages, 2004
Finding Their Place
Reviewed by Sarah Weinman
Authority figures have long been a staple of fiction, mainstream or genre. Wearing a uniform or having some sort of power puts them one step above the ordinary -- no matter whether it's a lawyer grilling a witness in the courtroom, a psychologist delving into the mind of a disturbed suspect, a coroner sifting through the secrets of the dead, or policemen on the hunt for an elusive killer. Too often, certainly in crime fiction, these figures are sketched out broadly. Their foibles are piled on in an attempt to make them more appealing, or they become heroic to the point of caricature. What's lost is that those people who work within the criminal justice system may do extraordinary things, but at heart, they are just like the rest of us: flawed, resentful, passionate and utterly human.
Laurie Lynn Drummond's riveting debut collection of stories, Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You, mines ground familiar to the well-versed crime fiction reader. Drummond focuses on five female police officers working the beat in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the stories they tell and the cases they handle. But her 10 short tales go far beyond that bare-bones description. From the second paragraph of the very first story here, which begins with the simple but raw statement "I killed a man," to the very last page of this compilation, which depicts a man and woman just touching hands, the reader is launched deeply into the minds and hearts of these brave women in blue -- characters who aren't heroines, aren't mythical figures. These cops simply do their jobs, go home, come back again; sometimes they triumph, and other times they pay a terrible price for their actions.
Katherine, Liz, Mona, Cathy, Sarah -- their life histories are recounted here in short, striking brushstrokes, as Drummond paints a landscape of routine and violence with a startling command of the English language. These are professional women, and very tough in the face of job adversities. For instance, when Katherine guns down a suspect in "Absolutes," she accepts the responsibility, but knows that hardly anyone else, not even her cop lover, can understand what it truly means:
If I could, I'd give them a story they might understand, one that doesn't involve guns, of course. Except I can't, no matter how hard I try. There is nothing to compare it to.
In "Taste, Touch, Sight, Sound, Smell," we encounter an older Katherine, a few years removed from the shooting incident that marks her and her career. Then, and now, she's learned a cardinal rule of police work, which is to acknowledge weakness but not to give in to it, and she passes this lesson on to the new recruits:
I've learned to read the topography of their fears: some have none and they scare me; some have a panicky fear and they scare me too; but most rookies have a controlled fear, a minuscule flutter just under their cheekbone or along the smooth column of their neck that acknowledges their own mortality. I'm glad to see that fear. I tell them to honor it but don't let it stop them from doing what needs to be done. Without that finger of fear, you make mistakes. Without fear, you can die quickly in this job. There's a fine line between courage and stupidity.
But eventually, tragedy catches up with Katherine; her lover-turned-husband is killed on a shift the two were working together. Just another occupational hazard, it seems. Katherine doesn't even allow herself to be shocked, and after ensuring that medical help has arrived, she takes off on foot to catch her hubby's slayer. A heroine to be forever admired, or just doing what was necessary? Newer officers think the former, but Katherine is more subtly shaded than that; she takes comfort in her own way, as she deems it important to her.
Her near-legendary status fades as we meet the other officers starring in this collection. Liz starts out as a fresh-faced recruit who discovers her neighbor's horrible secret in "Lemme Tell You Something." But a few years later, she's off the job, the victim of a shattered leg and a fragile psyche in "Finding a Place":
It's been two years since I left. Some days I miss it so badly, the ache is so deep, that I think I must know what amputees feel like, reaching for that part of themselves no longer there. I miss the laughter, the stories, the camaraderie, the adrenaline.
Mona, on the other hand, is haunted from the get-go, growing up in the shadow of her father's dual personality: a decorated officer, but an abusive husband and parent. In "Cleaning Your Gun," perhaps the most chilling story to be found in these pages, she contemplates suicide after history has repeated itself in a horrifying manner. An alcoholic, her marriage irrevocably broken and her child gone, Mona wonders if she's become just like her father as she spins the chamber of a revolver, a single bullet ready to be fired in an instant.
The longest story in Anything You Say, and only slightly weaker than the others, is told in Cathy's voice. Ironically, "Something About a Scar" is the most genre-bound of Drummond's yarns, focusing on a woman who claims to have been stabbed and raped but is disbelieved. The cops, especially one in particular, add up the inconsistencies and conclude that the victim tried to kill herself. Although Drummond expertly conveys the frustration this woman feels, as well as Cathy's ambivalence at being her assigned confidante, the reader never quite obtains a clear sense of how Cathy, a victim services volunteer ready to enter cadet school, resolves the inconsistencies in her mind. A few years later, some surprising twists throw her into a delicate situation as the case is reopened and she meets the victim once again. Will Cathy, now a seasoned cop, choose protocol over her gut instinct? Or will she opt for the least satisfactory solution?
Cathy's dilemma becomes quaintly pale in the face of Sarah's actions in the final two stories, "Keeping the Dead Alive" and its follow-up, "Where I Come From." Sarah is a firebrand, deliberately rootless with her sometimes-boyfriend and her rented apartment. Though she's a military veteran, she is still caught off-guard by the brutal torture and murder of a young woman, especially when it looks as if the victim's husband might get away with the crime. Outraged, Sarah organizes a group of fellow comrades -- all female -- to gather together in a vigil for the fallen woman. Soon, this vigil goes horribly awry, and she must pick up the pieces and start over in a new town if she is to deal with her demons. But what attracted Sarah to police work, and what continues to attract others, is how cut-and-dry things are supposed to be:
It's one of the aspects I like best about my job. Wash away all the noise of motivations, clues that do or don't add up, guilt or innocence, and what you still have is fact: a crime.
Each of the five women examined in these tales makes profound choices every day -- some affect them inarguably; others, not at all. But Laurie Lynn Drummond never flinches from showcasing the pain and feeling those choices entail. These stories ooze authenticity, no doubt because of Drummond's eight-year tenure as a police officer in the 1970s and 80s. She knows her profession intimately; the procedural details here are an integral but never forced part of her stories. But what she knows most, and best, are people. Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You is remarkable for many reasons: its clarity of vision, its quality of description and its deft use of language. Drummond is already a master stylist, never letting her stories veer out of hand. Although it took 12 years for this collection to finally see print, one dearly hopes that her upcoming novel will not take nearly as long to be completed. Laurie Lynn Drummond is a new voice to behold, a writer who takes the staples of crime fiction and spins them in a breathtakingly fresh manner. If she can break my heart with short stories, just imagine what power she can wield in a longer format. | February 2004
Sarah Weinman is a frequent contributor to January Magazine.