By Wendy Thomas
Elements of horror, mystery and crime fiction, sprinkled with moments of wit, make this month’s read — ”Red Market” by Dharma Kelleher — one unforgettable adventure. Bounty hunter Jinx Ballou and her team are tracking a body broker named Kreuger whose job is to sell human remains that are donated to science.
A grim career choice made more macabre by Kreuger’s sale of a cadaver to a military contractor who blew it up while testing armor, leading him to be charged with the abuse of a corpse. As Jinx and her team pursue Kreuger, they discover the Red Market on the dark web, a site for the illegal trafficking of human organs.
Not for the squeamish, Jinx at one point finds herself locked in a cooler full of body parts in a scene that is described in substantial detail. In true bounty hunter fashion, there are also plenty of car chases, shootouts and plot twists.
Along with the action are social-commentary-filled plotlines that bring additional depth to the story, the main one being that of Rayna and Leia, a mother and daughter being hidden by Jinx for their safety. Kelleher, the author, is a transgender woman (as is Jinx) and she explores transphobia and the social and political barriers faced by trans people through her characters.
In the case of Leia, an 11-year-old trans girl, her violent father refuses to accept her gender identity, and child protective services claims child abuse for the gender-affirming care that Leia is receiving. The majority of the main and secondary characters in the book identify on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum and all are actively pursuing social justice for their community.
At the heart of this book also lies privilege and the economic exploitation of vulnerable communities. The Red Market targets undocumented immigrants for organ harvesting, and the beneficiaries are wealthy and influential individuals in need of transplants, while affluent doctors are profiting from the transactions.
The messaging is not subtle, but works well within the context of the story. The fifth book in the Jinx Ballou Bounty Hunter series, this can be read as a standalone or as part of the series. It’s a wild ride and a great read that celebrates transgender voices for Pride month. Check it out at the Smiley Branch of Denver Public Library!
Wendy Thomas is a librarian at the Smiley Branch Library. When not reading or recommending books, you can find her hiking with her dogs.