Rosel George Brown’s 1966 Sibyl Sue Blue is the first of two books featuring detective Sibyl Sue Blue.
1990! A decade after scaled Centaurians began moving to the USA, they have settled in slum ghettos, where they are the newest minority hate target for bigoted nativists, replacing the Italians, Irish, and others of earlier times. Undercover cop Sibyl Sue Blue becomes interested in Centaurians when every Centaurian she encounters tries to kill her. The cigar-smoking widow isn’t putting with any of that; she beats up her assailants. Oddly enough, this doesn’t put a stop to the attempted murders.
Also of pressing concern: the so-called benzale murders. What the murders have to do with benzale (an illegal drug that arrived at the same time as the Centauri migrants) is not immediately clear. What is known: victims are found with huge wounds and missing livers. The cops assume that the murders have something to do with the benzale trade.
Blue believes there’s more to the deaths than gang-related murders. Benzale may be involved or it may not. The murders may not actually be murders; they may be something else. Too bad that her hunches won’t carry much weight1 with her bosses if she can’t show any tangible evidence.
Evidence arrives at last; it almost kills her. She accepts and smokes a tainted benzale-doped cigarette. She narrowly survives. Latest hypothesis: the supposed murder victims were actually victims of a disease that that catastrophically shrinks livers and prompts suicides.
Further investigation shows that the so-called benzale murders are not crime-related at all! They’re a covert attempt to invade the Earth. The effects on humans are entirely unintended and draw too much attention to the stealthy plot. Who’s invading? Or what? Well, it’s not the Centaurians. I cannot tell you more, lest I spoil the plot.
Blue provides an answer to that age old question: can a small, cigar-smoking woman with a fondness for men and knee-rouge2 dole out police brutality as well as her much larger male colleagues? At least in Blue’s case, the answer is a firm yes. Perhaps even more so, since the men don’t wear high heeled shoes and cannot use them as improvised weapons. In the context of the 1960s such a character might have been startling (at least to male readers), particularly since Blue manages to balance her cop job with the demanding task of being a single mother.
Police as a rule don’t spend a lot of time thinking about technological developments except as they directly impinge on their jobs. The author doesn’t tell us how Earth managed to develop faster-than-light travel by 1980 or how it works3; that’s of no concern to her characters or her plot. What matters to Blue and her fellow cops is the influx of Centaurians (who, like previous distrusted minorities, are reputed to seduce Earth women4, import illegal drugs, and listen to weird music).
I’d like to say Blue is above the petty prejudices of the day but while she’s involved with a human organization combating anti-Centaurian prejudice, it’s a job. A job that requires her to go undercover to get closer to various Centaurians. She doesn’t have to like the folks she meets (particularly if they’re trying to kill her). As it turns out, Blue is in far more danger from her fellow humans than she is from the latest group of immigrants. She’s unprejudiced enough to realize and act on that fact.
As previously mentioned, I’m not well read in Brown’s oeuvre. I have read her collaboration with Keith Laumer. It’s not all that surprising that she teamed up with Keith Laumer. Their political sensibilities seem well matched, although Laumer never wrote anything that had a woman character as independent and capable as is Blue.
Brown’s prose is functional.
Blue may not be, uh, especially progressive in her views but at least she is extremely energetic about turning them into action.
Modern readers may be a little thrown by the brevity of the story, which would be novella length by modern standards. Unfortunately, readers who enjoyed this won’t find much more to read. Brown died young of lymphoma and there was just the one sequel.
Which as it turns out I own….
1: Hunches not involving Centaurians are distrusted, but blaming the immigrants for anything and everything requires little or no evidence.
2: My editor asks “BTW, what the hell is knee-rouge?” From context, I believe it is rouge for knees.
3: Whatever led to FTL may have butterflied away Miranda vs Arizona.
4: Blue is not necessarily averse to knocking boots with Centaurians. Seeing as how they are another species from another world, they are not interfertile with humans. Or so it is believed. It turns out this is not 100 percent correct. I have questions which a long-deceased author cannot answer.