December 6, 2014

My Vacation Reading

As you know, in December I take a vacation from reading crime fiction so I can read some literary fiction or popular fiction.

What I’m reading this December: An e-novel, Dark Genesis by A. D. Koboah, which I’m reading on my iPad Mini.

The other two are print books:

As you know, I’m a contributor to the website SleuthSayers. Well, I’ll post my last contribution to the site this month. Beginning January, I’ll devote my time exclusively to this blog because I’ve discovered that, though Black writers are producing much crime fiction, no website is devote to reviewing their books. I wish to change that. I don’t mean to say their books aren’t reviewed. Some are reviewed in the mainstream publications. Walter Mosley, for instance, is sure to be reviewed. 

Anyway, please visit the SleuthSayers blog here and discover how writers of crime and mystery fiction come up with ideas for stories, how they construct their stories, and how they publish them. In addition, you’ll read about how real police work, how real soldiers go about soldiering, and many other subjects not necessarily about writing or books.

Have a Merry Christmas, and I’ll catch you in the New Year.

November 8, 2014

The Blues is Dangerous

In Robert O. Greer’s first novel, THE DEVIL’S HATBAND, in his CJ Floyd series, the bounty hunting bail bondsman tangled with some maniacal environmentalists bent on destroying the cattle industry. In the second novel, THE DEVIL’S RED NICKEL, not only does Floyd face some bad guys hell bent on killing him, his beautiful, sexy client, who "looked every bit the part of an Ebony fashion-fair model..." at times gives him as much trouble as the bad guys. Her sexy beauty belies her real personality. For CJ she "was a black woman with money who was turning out be volatile, manipulative, and unpredictable."
At the Juneteenth Steering Committee meeting, Vernon Lowe, the part time chief morgue attendant at Denver General Hospital and full time undertaker in Five Points, Denver’s Black community, hands CJ one of CJ’s business cards that he found in the pockets of a man recently brought into the morgue. CJ has no idea who the man is or why he had his card.

Shortly after the meeting breaks up, the sexy beauty, Clothilde Polk, the dead man’s daughter approaches CJ. The dead man was LeRoy Polk. She hires CJ to find his killer and gives him the names of five people she believes might be responsible. The first is LeRoy’s ex-wife Mabel Pitts, who was like a mother to CJ, and is a surprising suspect. The second, also a surprise, is her half brother Tyrone, Mabel’s and LeRoy’s son. The third suspect is a gangster named Lawrence Hampoli now living in Pueblo, Colorado with whom LeRoy was in business. Juney-boy Stokes, a transsexual from whom LeRoy stole songs, is the fourth. LeRoy stole money from the fifth suspect, Roland Jefferson who invested in his Stax of Wax Recording Company.

Given Clothilde’s nasty attitude, CJ doesn’t like working for her but he needs the money because he’s broke. The last man he bailed out skipped town, leaving him with no money to pay bills. Before the job is over, CJ and Clothilde are almost killed as they arrive at Mae’s Louisiana Kitchen just as a bomb goes off wrecking the place. Later, he and his cowboy sidekick, Billy DeLong, will be run off the road near Pueblo, Colorado and shot at in Chicago.

LeRoy Polk was a DJ known as Daddy Doo-Wop Polk and built the music business Stax of Wax in the 1950s. He worked and fronted for the mob in Chicago and amassed a fortune that he used to start his own record label. He may have made some master tapes that the mob didn't know about. The tapes are the key to who killed him and Mabel.

The red nickels of the title were coins with a red strip that owners who rented the jukeboxes were forced to use. They gave customers change in red nickels, and the customers used them to play songs on the jukeboxes. The gangster who operated the jukebox business collected the money.

I don't usually test my detecting ability against that of the sleuth. I prefer to watch him or her as s/he collects and assembles the clues. However, in The Devil’s Red Nickel, I found myself trying to identify the killer before CJ. The killer’s elusive identity, held back until the penultimate chapter, is a real surprise.

What I really liked about the novel is the brief history of Juneteenth and the background setting of the rhythm and blues industry during the 1950s. It brought make memories of my youth growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee and listening late at night to the DJs on the black radio station in Memphis.

If you enjoyed The Devil’s Hatband, you’ll enjoy The Devil’s Red Nickel even more, especially if you are a rhythm and blues fan.

I hope all of you had a scary Halloween and are looking forward to a Happy Thanksgiving.

October 8, 2014

The Bounty Hunting Bail Bondsman

In the next months, I’ll be discussing the novels of Dr. Robert O. Greer. In an earlier time, Dr. Greer might have been considered a renaissance man. In addition to writing novels, he is a professor of dentistry, dermatology, medicine, and pathology at the University of Colorado and owns a large cattle ranch in Wyoming. I became acquainted with Dr. Greer, the writer, when I read his unpublished short story “Oprah’s Song,” featuring CJ Floyd, in the anthology BLACK NOIR: MYSTERY, CRIME, AND SUSPENSE FICTION BY AFRICAN-AMERICAN WRITERS. The short bio shows he has written several novels featuring CJ Floyd, “a tough, often curmudgeonly, cheroot-smoking African-American bail bondsman and occasional bounty hunter.”

I became acquainted with CJ (Calvin) Floyd In Greer’s first novel, The Devil’s Hatband. Floyd is the only black bail bondsman on Denver’s bails bondsmen row. A Vietnam vet, he is six weeks away from his 45th birthday, worries about being in a middle-aged crisis, and resents the way bailbond business seems rigged against black bondsmen. He has a quick temper that he struggles to control. His trademark dress is a “jet black riverboat gamblers vest" and a stetson straw hat. He owns a "pampered '57 Chevrolet Bel Air.”

Floyd gets his first case as a detective when two well dressed black men enter his office and offer to pay him $150 a day to find and bring back Brenda Mathison, daughter of  federal judge Lewis Mathison, and retrieve some documents she stole from Carson Technologies, Inc., a corporation located in Boston. She is the leader of a radical environmentalist group called The Grand River Tribe. He has 30 days to complete the job if he wants to get paid.

The Brenda is not wanted by the police, there is no warrant out on her, and CJ is not a private investigator. He points out that bringing her back could be considered kidnapping. He wonders why they want to hire a bounty hunter when the case seems to require a private investigator or lawyer. He is suspicious but takes the job because he needs the money.

CJ finds the Brenda in a cabin in the mountains in Wyoming. He can’t bring her back because she is dead. The Sheriff of the county will not allow him to search the cabin, and CJ doesn’t reveal why he wants to search it. Back in Denver, when he reports her death to Judge Mathison, the judge immediately offers to pay him $10,000 to find her killer.

To earn the $10,000, CJ finds himself dealing with a manic, the second in command who became the leader, upon Brenda’s death, of the Grand River Tribe. Unlike Brenda who only wanted to turn the ranchers’s cows loose, Denver Deere, using information stolen from Carson Technologies, has developed a deadly virus he plans to use on the cows and possibly people. As if tracking and stopping Deere weren’t enough, CJ has to deal with a gangbanger named Razor D with him he had a run in when Razor threatened his ex-girlfriend Mavis.

Once a detective takes a case, he is expect to complete all phases of it. In the wrap up, Greer fails to explain why CJ didn’t find the documents and the reason for the time limit for finding the killer. The significance of the title escaped me. There is a hat band in the last chapter, but it doesn’t belong to any of the villains. It is a gift from one of CJ’s friends to Mavis. But the title has a nice ring to it, and invites you to read the novel.

Greer effectively uses the two conventions of detective fiction. He introduces a dead body in the first chapter, which will keep the reader reading to discover who did it. He delays until the penultimate chapter to reveal the identity of the super villain.

The promise Greer shows in this first novel encouraged me to read the others, and I expect to have fun doing so because I like the bounty hunting bails bondsman and sometime detective.

September 6, 2014

Super Heroine vs. Super Villain

Sometimes an author will try writing a novel in a different genre. Of course, she sometimes succeeds in writing a good story and sometimes not. Evelyn Coleman is the author of many children’s books. In 1998, she wrote an “adult thriller.” What A Woman’s Gotta Do is her first and apparently only adult novel.

When her fiancée Kenneth Lawson fails to show up at the courthouse so they can get married, a disappointed Patricia Conley, the protagonist/narrator, sits for several hours in the restroom crying. When she leaves the courthouse, she is pissed off at Kenneth for standing her up. She becomes even more pissed off when she stops in a cafe near the courthouse and sees him sitting in a back booth with another woman.

When two detectives show up at her house later and question her about her car, she fear something bad has happened to Kenneth. The car was found behind the restaurant with the keys still in it and blood on the steering wheel and seat. She doesn’t tell them Kenneth had been driving it. She claims someone broke into her garage and stole it. Why would she lie? She is a journalist and feels the need to find out herself what happened. Besides, she, having grown up in foster homes, learned you don’t rat on anybody. She must find out if Kenneth is dead and if so who killed him. If he is alive, she intends to kick his butt for standing her up.

In her search for Kenneth, Patricia has to fight two super villains—a geneticist and his wealthy backer. Both white men, driven by greed, want to exploit a genetic discovery the geneticist stole from an African tribe, the Dogon. To say what the discovery was would be a spoiler, but, trust me, the way in which each villain wants to use the knowledge is a surprise.

The plot of What A Woman’s Gotta Do has all the necessary elements (heavy doses of violence and a modicum sex) of a thriller. Coleman’s detailed descriptions of the Dogon religious view of the world, which she neatly weaves into the plot, sent me to Wikipedia. The Dogon are a real tribe living in Mali in West Africa. I like the idea of a real African tribe functioning as a fictional character in a plot in which the Africans acquired scientific knowledge a long time ago that the white folks are only beginning to acquire. Coleman clearly did an excellent job in researching the Dogon culture. But good research doesn't make a good story.

Unfortunately, Patricia Conley, the main character, is not strong enough to be a super heroine. She is an investigative journalist on the Atlanta Guardian newspaper. She also is a former alcoholic and skilled in the martial arts, which makes her a tough customer for men to deal with. Fire, closeness, and anything to do with God or spirit scares her, which explains why she considers herself a lost soul looking for someone to love her. “Shit” is her favorite word because “For some reason, an I-don't-give-a-shit attitude and a sailor's gruff will take you a long way at a newspaper. That and cursing like one." Her only friend Carol, a reporter on the Atlanta Guardian, also uses “shit” a lot, making her sound exactly like Patricia.

I neither like nor dislike Patricia. Since she elicits no emotional reaction, she fails to achieve super heroineness. If one member of a musical duet is off key, the result is a bad performance. In a story, character and plot must be in harmony. If one element fails, the story may still work, but if both fail, the story fails. In What A Woman’s Gotta Do, plot and character don’t harmonize.

Some of you might well like the novel because the super heroine dodges bullets, beats up a couple of bad guys, figures out what the super villains are up to, and has a hate/love affair with a nice man.