July 19, 2010


ELeanor Taylor Bland (1944-2010), who died on June 2, 2010 in Waukegan, Illinois. She was one of the African American writers who helped bring African American mystery/crime fiction into the mainstream in her police procedural novels featuring Marti MacAlister, a wife, mother, and homicide detective. Bland left a modest body of work in 13 novels written between 1992 and 2005. She also edited Shades of Black, a collection of mystery and crime short stories by African American writers.

 A Dark and Deadly Deception, her last novel, the thirteenth in her Marti MacAlister series, published in December 2005, is about her favorite subjects, family and children.

The case begins for Lincoln Prairie homicide detective Marti MacAlister and her partner Matthew (Vik) Jessenovik when two boys swimming in the flooding Des Plains river discover the body of a woman snagged on a tree branch. The body is later identified as Savannah Payne-Jones, a minor actress with the film company making a movie near Lincoln Prairie. The case takes the reader into the history of two families, one Black and one White, in Lincoln Prairie. Savannah is connected to the Black family through Lincoln Prairie resident Delilah Greathouse, who doesn't know that the dead actress is her granddaughter, but suspects it when she sees that the picture in the newspaper looks like her long lost daughter Tamara. 

Thomas Newsome is the last surviving member of the White family for whom Delilah once worked. Through him, Bland is able to again explore another of her favorite subjects―orphans, this time in Romania. The Archbishop of Romania is coming to a town near Lincoln Prairie to raise funds for the orphans in his country. Thomas wants to return some jewelry that his  grandfather brought with him to America which belongs to Romania. His older brother Warren was killed in WWII, and his younger brother Edmund disappeared. 

The primary clue in the case is an earring made with a zirconia setting. Marti learns from Sara, Savannah’s daughter, that she also wore a brooch and wore her jewelry in all her movies and when she gambled. Marti’s research shows that the jewelry, though of little value, was made by a famous jewel maker from Eastern Europe, possibly Romania. How did it get into the country and in to the hands of Savannah and why would anyone kill for something of little value, unless they didn’t know its value are the questions Marti must find the answer to if she is to solve the murder. The identity of the murderer is creditable surprise for Marti, Delilah, and the reader.

Because the case is under the jurisdiction of the Northern Illinois Regional Task Force of which Marti  and  Vik are members, it is assigned to them. The assignment provides the new supervisor, Lieutenant Gail Nicholson, another opportunity to attempt to force Marti to quit by making her life on the job miserable. She pushes Marti and Vik (but mostly Marti) to work on the case of an unidentified skeleton found ten years ago in the sealed second floor of a building in Lincoln Prairie. The autopsy showed it was a male who died from a gunshot wound. Clues to identify the skeleton are otherwise nonexistent. Lieutenant Nicholson's efforts are thwarted by the task force case, which takes precedent because its supervisor outranks her.

I believe that had Bland lived, she would have continued the antagonism between Marti and Nicholson, which has given the series some snap in the last two novels that it is lacking in the other novels.

In A Cold and Silent Dying, the bad guy dictated the action. The investigation drives the plot in A Dark and Deadly Deception. I like bad guys, so, for me, A Cold and Silent Dying was more enjoyable. Some readers may not like that in the present, Delilah and Thomas have no connection to each other. However, once you know the history of the two families about half way through the novel, you can easily guess the what connects them. Bland also leaves it to the reader to guess the identity of the skeleton.