Bestselling young adult and children’s author Marie Rutkoski’s first novel for adult readers, Real Easy, begins by immersing us in the atmosphere of the Lovely Lady, a Midwestern strip club where the dancers are at once uninhibited and reticent, disserved by hurdles in their lives yet unapologetic about their desire to overcome them.
It’s 1999, and after her shift, Samantha Lind—stage name Ruby—decides to give a ride home to the club’s newest dancer, a misguided but cheerful young woman named Jolene, who calls herself Lady Jade. As they drive down a secluded road, Samantha’s car is run into a ditch by the driver behind them, and the police arrive to discover a dead body in one seat and evidence of a kidnapping in the other.
Solving the murder and disappearance remains at the forefront of Rutkoski’s novel, but it doesn’t overshadow the other plotlines, which include a dancer who yearns for a life she could’ve led, a police officer grappling with the loss of a child and another officer navigating moral dilemmas in the workplace. The multiple points of view reach far and wide, allowing readers to unfold the mystery alongside Rutkoski’s characters, some of whom are deeply embedded in the case, others merely on the outskirts.
There are no easy conclusions to be drawn from Real Easy, no clear-cut progression of events that allows the crime to be pieced together, but the novel’s fast pace mitigates the frustration this may cause. Rutkoski’s handling of time is masterful, and not one moment fails to meet its potential. Readers will find themselves rolling back the tape in their minds to seek out the patterns in the clues—the black paint from the car that hit Samantha and Jolene, the cut on the victim’s foot in the shape of a crown, the two phone calls to Samantha’s apartment in the middle of the night—before the climactic ending’s revelations.
Rutkoski skillfully handles the complexity of a group of individuals whose stories are rarely told, let alone told with so much humanity imbued into every detail.