March 7, 2015

The Army Deserter

Resurrecting Langston Blue, the fourth novel in Robert Greer’s CJ Floyd series, is filled with some real nasty people in its exploration of an atrocity an American army special forces team called Star 1 might have committed during the Vietnam war. 
After his cabin in the woods of West Virginia is blown up, army deserter Langston Blue knows he is a marked man. The two men who helped him get back to the United States from Vietnam and paid him $20,000 a year for 30 years now consider him a liability. In his pocket is a letter from a daughter in Denver whom he never knew existed.

The daughter, Carmen Nguyen, knows about her father because her aunt Ket, her mother’s sister, knew what happened to him based on what her sister Mimm, Blue’s Vietnam wife, told her. For 30 years, Ket kept the post office box number for him that Mimm had given her.  Carmen hires CJ Floyd and his partner Flora Jean Benson to find her father. Before they can get on a plane to West Virginia, Langston Blue arrives in Denver. After they hear his story, CJ, Flora Jean, and Julie, CJ’s former secretary who is now a lawyer, take on the job of proving Langston wasn’t a deserter.

The murder of Democratic senatorial candidate Peter Margolin complicates Langston’s situation. Margolin was Langston's commanding officer of the Star 1 team of which Langston was a member. Five members of the team were killed on the last mission. Since Langston was one of the survivors, he becomes the prime suspect in Margolin’s murder. The three detectives must unravel a conspiracy surrounding the Star 1 team to clear Langston.

Two people complicate CJ’s attempt to clear Langston. The first is his former high school rival Lieutenant Wendall Newburn the homicide detective investigating the case who was a rival for Mavis Sundee’s affections. He still carries a grudge because Mavis Sundee picked CJ instead of him, and he isn’t too fond of Flora Jean.

The second is Celeste Deepstream. In The Devil’s Backbone, she vowed vengeance on CJ for sending her twin brother Bobby Two-shirts back to prison where he died. After serving five years in prison for killing bail bondsman Cicero Vickers she is released on parole. She returns to Denver with one thing on her mind—kill CJ Floyd. She decides the best way to get to him is through his ladylove Mavis Sundee. This parallel plot makes the novel longer than it should be and contributes nothing to the main plot. I expect to see her in the next novel.

In Resurrecting Langston Blue, CJ faces a dilemma I also expect to be resolved in the next novel. Mavis wants him to quit the dangerous bail bond business. He thinks about quitting and going into selling antiques. The dilemma adds depth to his personality, which I expect to observe becoming more complex over time.

Greer doesn’t describe in detail the pulsating life of Five Points so that you feel the heart and soul of the black community, but he does show in generic terms its ongoing decline:

The Points, the core of Denver's black community since early in the twentieth century, was a neighborhood in transition. Urban gentrification and increasing ethnic diversity were becoming more obvious every day. Longtime shades of black were making way for every color in the rainbow.

Greer again provides a history of black cowboys. Nat Love was one of the six black cowboys who participated in the Fourth of July Celebration in Deadwood City, South Dakota in 1876. He won the shooting contest and earned the nickname “Deadwood Dick.” (Reference: The Black West by William Loren Katz. A Touchtone Book, published by Simon & Shuster Inc. Copyright 1987, 1996 by Ethrac Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-684-81478-1) 
Although I think Resurrecting Langston Blue is about 100 pages too long, it is a well-plotted novel and shows that character and plot are inseparable.

1 comment:

Leigh Lundin said...

You well boiled down one complex plot, Louis. And if you say a book is a hundred pages too long, I believe it!