In the beginning of Anthony Neil Smith’s Castle Danger: Woman on Ice there are incidents that tell you that this book might just be a little off, a little off in a good way. Could it be a cop shooting his partner and that cop in custody dressed as a woman? Or maybe it is the narrator Hermann Jahnke’s obsession with hard-core porn? There are hints everywhere that Castle Danger: Woman on Ice is different than any other book you’ve read this year.
Though Castle Danger: Woman on Ice falls easily into the mystery genre, specifically the police procedural, it is Anthony Neil Smith’s examination of Jahnke’s life that moves the book forward. Sure there is Jahnke’s investigation of a woman’s death, her frozen corpse pulled out of and then reclaimed by a Minnesota lake, but it is Jahnke we want to learn about. As we start to get to know Jahnke, he is on the fringes of the police force, not wanted back and not wanting to go back. Bad goes to worse as Jahnke burns off his junk and then his girlfriend leaves him. Jahnke tells us his story as best as he can, trying to pick out those meaningful vignettes of his life that shaped him into the man he is today. Often times he doesn’t even understand what is happening to him, he just knows that that part of his story is important.
As each day goes by in the investigation, Jahnke makes difficult decisions about himself and what direction he is headed. Sometimes Jahnke denies the obviousness of who he is and at other times he simply enjoys the ride he finds himself on. It’s complicated.
There was a woman, tall and thick, with her hair dyed black. Mid-fifties, I would guess. Barelegged in a dress riding up as she struck a pose like a cowboy about to lasso a calf. I was the calf. She was handsome. But she was a woman. You could just tell. Everything about her. I fought through the crowd to her. She was taller than me, and she wrapped her arms around my neck, sashayed with me, took it down low.
She was a woman.
A manly woman, but a woman.
These days, I think “a woman is a woman, trans or not,” but at the time I was only thinking about this woman, acting like she was horny as all fuck, grinding on me, mascara running, hands on my ass. Thinking “this is normal. This is good. I’m dancing with a woman. Not a man. This is okay.”
When she was close enough to my ear, she shouted, “You okay with this? You uncomfortable?” Slurred to hell.
I should’ve been. I wasn’t. I shook my head. She smelled good, whatever her soap and sweat mix was, it was easy on the nose, and she reminded me of high school teachers I had admired — and jerked off to — and women who worked at the library and women who worked at the place where I bought my car insurance.
Anthony Neil Smith’s Castle Danger: Woman on Ice is a character study of a man examining who he is, who he was, and who he is going to be. It is Jahnke’s exploration of his sexuality that motivates the reader to press on. The mystery is of no matter, it is Jahnke we care about and we continue on reading to see how he makes it to the other side.