October 6, 2012

The Truth is Hard

My favorite character is back in Charlotte Carter’s second novel featuring amateur detective, Cassandra. The twenty-year old college student I met in Jackson Park who made me want to slap the taste out of her mouth gets her grandaunt Ivy and Ivy’s husband Woody involved in another dangerous mystery-thriller in Trip Wire.  

A few months after solving the 20 year old murder of a White school teacher, Cassandra and her grandaunt Ivy and granduncle Woody investigate the murder of her best friend Wilton and his White girl friend Mia in a hippie commune where Cassandra lives with six other people. To prove she is independent and to annoy her aunt and uncle, she moved out of their home and into the commune, an apartment on Chicago’s north side. She met Wilton, the black member of the commune, in Lincoln Park during Bobby Seale’s appearance at the Democratic Convention in 1968.

In her usual impetus and annoying way, Cass can’t rest until she finds out who killed Milton and Mia. Like most 20-year-olds in the 1960s, she mistrusts  adults, especially, Ivy and Woody as well as the Chicago police, including her uncle’s detective friend Jack Klaus. During her investigation she discovers a Black militant organization called “The August 4 Committee” whose mission is to kill White Army officers they consider racists and who, they believe, murdered Black soldiers in Vietnam. She also learns about spies for the FBI and snitches for the Chicago police.

Carter deftly describes Chicago in late 1968 and by extension the entire nation as seen through the eyes of Cassandra.

My ROOM WAS GRAY AND MUSTY FROM CIGARETTE SMOKE. IT was long past sunrise, but light was hard to come by. The news is­suing from my clock radio was just as sunless and heavy-

Death toll for the week so far: 80. That was just "our" side. No figures on how many of the enemy incinerated. A Christmas truce was in the offing, and Bob Hope was on the way to Saigon.

Other headlines: Two children and their welfare mother as­phyxiated. Mix poor people with no heat and a faulty gas oven. Result, death. A drunk driver killed four teens on the highway.

In Cassandra, Carter has created the personality of an idealistic 20-year-old Black female rebelling against the system and having to learn to accept the truths she finds in the system. While talking about how drug dealers operate with Henry Waddell, the old gangster in Jackson Park, who has some past connection to Ivy and Woody, Cassandra realizes that she and Wilton had drifted apart:

Suddenly I realized how far away from Wilton I had traveled in just a few days. Maybe it was just a matter of knowing, accepting in a way I hadn't before, that he was dead and forever lost to me. But I don't think that was the whole answer. Accepting the death meant acknowledging how far away he had gone from me. What I was remarking on now was how far away I had gone from him. Curious that of all the friends and strangers I'd spoken to, it should be Henry Waddell who triggered this insight. 

Unlike her Greek namesake, it is not others who will not accept what she is saying, but Cassandra who must finally accept the truth of what she learns about herself and her grandaunt and granduncle.

If Charlotte Carter wrote another novel featuring Cassandra, I couldn’t find it on the Internet. So, if you know of another Cassandra novel, please let me know.


Kelly Robinson said...

Another great review. Have you considered doing a book? I think a guidebook to African-American crime writers would be useful to many.

Louis A. Willis said...

Yep, thought about a book several times and even started outline for one. But, just don't feel I can devote the time needed to do research, though I have done some.