When Last Seen Alive (Penguin, ISBN 0-525-17027-6), the fifth novel in Gar Anthony Haywood’s Aaron Gunner series, opens with the private investigator working for Connie Everson, wife of Inglewood councilman Gil Everson, taking pictures of her husband with other women. However, she complicates matters when she insists on pictures of her husband with one specific woman, but doesn’t tell Gunner the name of the woman or give him a description. Gunner is not happy with the peeping-tom case but it pays the bills. Since he is not a photographer and is also working a second case, he hires 17-year-old Sly Cribbs, a budding photographer, to follow councilman Everson. The teen is shot, and Gunner, blaming himself for putting Sly in harms way, needs to find the shooter and his or her connection to the Everson case.
One of the reasons Gunner takes on a second case is a beautiful, single woman, with whom, over the course of the investigation, he becomes romantically involved. Yolanda McCeary hires him to find her brother who goes under the name of Elroy Covington. Covington had been seen with someone he knew during the Million Man March in Washington DC and was last seen in Los Angeles just before he disappeared with Barber Jack, a straight razor wielding, fat, mean sociopath whom Gunner’s friends warn him against. He is cautioned to beware of the straight razor.
Gunner gets an even bigger surprise when he realizes he is also in conflict with the dangerous Defenders of the Bloodline, the self-appointed guardians of Black dignity whose mission is to teach a lesson to Black people whom they decide are a disgrace to the race. They consider themselves to be “the assassins for the people.”
A flier the group circulates serves notice “To the serpents among us. The liars and sinners in blackface who work in legion with the white Devil to shame our proud people. The defenders of the bloodline will purge you from the house of Africa until none of you remain. Some have already met the sword of righteousness. Many more will follow. Your house is close at hand. Allah, the most merciful, is on our side.”
The group is interested in Covington because as a reporter on a Chicago newspaper, he wrote a story about Black people that was untrue and unflattering. He is, to them, a disgrace to the race. The Defenders warn Gunner to back off when he gets too close to the truth. Like any good PI, he wants to finish the job, so ignores the warning.
I like this novel for its graphic action scenes. If you like vivid descriptions of fights and near escapes, then you will enjoy When Last Scene. Both plot lines have genuine surprise endings for Gunner and the reader. I was disappointed, however, with the Connie Everson plot because it seemed incomplete, and left me wondering if maybe Haywood forgot about his characterization of her.