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.