February 10, 2011


In his three previous Aaron Gunner novels, Gar Anthony Haywood dealt with the themes of Black revolutionaries, gangbangers, and the conflict between the Los Angeles police department and the Black community. The theme of the fourth novel in the series is abused women.

It’s Not A Pretty Sight, (ISBN 0-399-14132-4), opens with Gunner reluctantly taking on a job for Roman Goody, owner of Best Way Store to find Russell Dartmouth, who owes Goody for merchandise he bought on credit. Gunner finds Dartmouth, a mean, dangerous man, and tells Goody. This angers Dartmouth because Goody hounds him for payment. Gunner is unaware at the time that he has become the target for the big man’s anger. However, the case is secondary to the primary case Gunner investigates but is thematically connected to the motif of how psychopaths differ.

The primary case involving the brutal murder of his ex-fiancée Nina is personal for Gunner. He didn’t want to get married so he broke up with her but remained friends with her and her mother, though he hadn’t spoken to either in many years. He wants to find the real killer because of his past love and friendship with Nina.

His investigation takes him to Sisterhood House, a refuge for abused women, and he learns some surprising things about Nina that he would rather not have known. What he learns causes him to include four women in the house as suspects. Everyone in Sisterhood believes Michael, her abusive husband, killed Nina.

The visit to Sisterhood House gives Gunner the opportunity to state his opinion on abusive Black men, and I suspect he speaks for the author.

Mrs. Singer, the director of Sisterhood House, asks Gunner his opinion of abusive Black men. Gunner opines that they  "have a self-esteem problem, number one. And number two, they can't handle pressure they feel black women put on them to be perfect. Perfect lovers,  fathers, providers--the works."

He blames Black women because “the standard some black women hold a man up to is unreasonably high. And…failing to meet that stan­dard can sometimes do as much to cut a man down at the knees as anything another man could ever do to him. Possibly even more."

From the police, Gunner learns that the gun that killed Nina also killed another man. The owner of the gun is another psychopath, a hitman named Angelo Dobbs.

Working two cases simultaneously requires, of course, two dramatic conclusions: in the first, Gunner faces off with the big man, Dartmouth. He has some sympathy for the psychopath because “Killers like Russell Dartmouth took no pride in what they did; they saw their acts of violence not as works of art, but as unfortunate measures the world had forced them to take.”  

But Angelo Dobbs is a different creature altogether. Gunner and a police detective go after the crazed killer. He has no sympathy for Dobbs: “The men and women cut from his mold were ashamed of nothing; they treated their every accomplishment like a badge of honor, something to show the world with pride and self-satisfaction.  No ­crime was too vile or too senseless to confess to; no theft, no rape, no disfigurement of the innocent. And certainly no murder. Murder was the greatest trophy of all.”

Haywood suggests that abusive men are psychopaths, and that not all psychopaths are the same, and some may need our sympathy. His handling of the psychopathic theme is good. However, as a Black man, I felt uneasy about his opinion of why Black men abuse Black women. It allows Black men the luxury of refusing to accept their violent behavior. The devil didn’t make him do it, the Black woman did.

The novel shows that somethings in the Black community are no different from those in the White community—dangerous psychopaths come in all colors.

It’s Not A Pretty Sight is an entertaining and informative novel.