For most people, the term "private investigator" conjures up a figure clad in a trench coat and a fedora, or even a mustached guy in a Hawaiian shirt, a la Magnum P.I. But a bewigged soccer mom driving a mini-van that stinks of tuna sandwiches? That's who Boise's Val Agosta was, until metastatic breast cancer claimed her life less than a year ago.
Agosta made it her mission to write and publish her memoirs before she died, and the result is Spymom: The True Story of a Soccer Mom Turned Private Eye (GuidepostsBooks, 2010). This limited autobiography consists of story after story of Agosta's cases as a middle-aged Nancy Drew, but it is her insidious disease process--breast cancer with multiple recurrences--that provides a sinister undercurrent woven throughout the book and adds meaningful subplot to the drudgery of private investigation. Ironically, Agosta credits the initial diagnosis of a potentially fatal illness with having been the catalyst that spurred the pursuit of her dream career.
As most real-life private investigators will admit, their work is rarely the suspenseful drama portrayed in bestsellers and movies. Instead, it's more often hours of boring surveillance on behalf of reluctant insurance companies who suspect a faked injury or for a divorce attorney hoping to catch a cheating spouse. Essentially, detectives witness human behavior at its worst. Readers living in or around Boise might appreciate Spymom because of their familiarity with the local backdrop of a low-speed chase down Broadway Avenue, or the discovery of a meth lab in Garden City, but in general, Agosta's escapades don't translate to interesting lit. Her syntactically unsophisticated prose is written at such an elementary level that one wonders about the identity of her target audience.
On the other hand, perhaps the clipped sentence structure intentionally emulates stereotypical detective speak, such as that of Sergeant Joe Friday from Dragnet. Unfortunately, the result neither thrills nor captivates. Without the visceral effect of pictures painted with words, readers are left to unaided imagination and real entertainment is elusive. However, what the published book lacks in fascination is easily made up for by Agosta's remarkable character. Her resilience, ambition and endless optimism become apparent almost immediately.