December 12, 2016

An Ex-acquaintance Reappears Bringing Danger

If you enjoy a novelist’s series, sadness creeps over you when you know you are reading the last novel in the series. Of Blood and Sorrow is the eighth and last novel in Valerie Wilson Wesley’s Tamara Hayle series. She has written several children and romance novels, but as far as I can determine, she hasn’t written anymore Tamara Hayle novels.

Lilah Love, the young woman Tamara met in Jamaica while on vacation several years ago, enters her life again. She almost got Tamara killed when Tamara was vacationing in Jamaica. An older Lilah, just like in Jamaica, brings trouble trailing behind her. She demands that Tamara bring her baby to her. She threatens to harm her son Jamal if Tamara doesn’t get Baby Dal from Lilah’s sister Thelma Lee. She gave the baby to Thelma Lee when she was in trouble and now Thelma Lee refuses to give it back. Tamara wants nothing to do with Lilah because “Death had clung to Lilah Love like fleas to an alley car down in Jamaica, and I didn’t want to bring those bad vibes into my life.” After Lilah leaves, she throws the address of the sister in the wastebasket.

To complicate matters further, Treyman Barnes, an alleged reformed gangster, hires Tamara to find Baby Dal and bring her to him. Troy, his son, is the baby’s father. Lilah married him before he was sent to Iraq and divorced him soon shortly afterwards. Tamara takes the job and tells Treyman that Lilah has also asked her to get the baby back. She doesn’t tell him that Lilah’s sister has the baby. She thinks it’ll be the easiest fee she ever earned. The ensuing event will prove her wrong.

Later, Thelma Lee calls Tamar, explains she knows Lilah is doing business with her but doesn’t explain how she knows. She’s frightened because some people, she says, have been following her. Tamara can come get the baby because Thelma Lee is tired of the drama around Baby Dal. She and the baby are living with their Aunt Edna Sweets. 

Tamara runs into a problem when she visits the home. Thelma Lee and the baby aren’t there, and the aunt’s boyfriend, Jimson Weed Carter, a Vietnam veteran, displays a hostile attitude toward Tamara. 

Her second problem when she returns home is the police are looking for Jamal. Lilah Love was killed, and they found an item in her car that belonged to him. If the killer suspects he saw what happened, he or she might be looking for Jamal. From a friend in the Belvington Heights Police Department, where Tamara used to work, she learns Lilah died from a blow with a fist to her throat that crushed her larynx.

Tamara suspects Lilah’s boyfriend Turk might be the killer until he is found in a motel room with his throat cut. She also suspects Treyman until he also is found with his throat cut. For Tamara, the only suspects left are Troy Barnes, a veteran of the Iraq war suffering from PTSD, and his mother Nellie Barnes, who suffers from one of those mysterious literary diseases.

Of the eight novels, I liked Of Blood and Sorrow the best. It has a real surprise twist for which Wesley deftly prepares the reader.

This is my last post. These days I struggle to find words to describe my impressions of the novels I read. While my reading vocabulary is intact, my writing vocabulary seems to have diminished. The words don’t come as easily as they did when I was younger. I’m sure, dear readers, you are aware that my reviews in the past year have been bland. I simply no longer have the energy to do the reading, evaluation, and writing. 

Another reason for giving up the blog is that, after reading Google’s message on Sunday, 20, 2016, about cookies and the European Union, I didn’t feel up to taxing my brain with yet another problem of learning how the Internet works. Maintaining the blog has gotten too technical and my aging brain is resisting the effort to keep up.

It’s been fun. Thanks for reading my blog.

November 5, 2016

Best Friends Forever

Before the Flowers of Friendship Faded Friendship Faded
      Gertrude Stein
Friendship is very precious and we like to believe when we’re in high school that our friendships will last forever. Of course, few of us have friendships from high school that last. The worse thing about friendship is breaking up on unfriendly terms.

In Dying In The Dark, the seventh novel in Valerie Wilson Wesley’s Tamara Hayle series, for three straight nights Tamara dreams about Celia Jones, a childhood friend. They were like sisters until the friendship ended over a man. The dreams began a month after an unknown killer had shot Celia on New Years Day. In the dreams Celia cries out for Tamara’s help. 

Two weeks after the dreams stop, Celia’s teenage son Cecil Jones, who found his mother’s body, wants to hire Tamara to find out who killed her. He came to her because he found her name in his mother’s notebook and he doesn’t trust the police to investigate the death of an unimportant black woman. He pays Tamara $400 as a retainer and promises to pay her more. Of course she wonders where or how a teenager would get so much money. 

When Tamara tries to contact him the next day, she learns an unknown assailant killed him. She agonizes over what to do with the $400. She doesn’t want to give it to Cecil’s ex-convict father Brent Liston. Her sense of obligation kicks in when she thinks about Celia’s cry for help in the dream. They once were close friends. She will do what she was paid to do: find Celia’s killer and maybe Cecil’s also.

Naturally, Tamara disagrees with the local police detective investigating the two murders. Tamara suspects prominent businessman Drew Sampson killed Celia because she had an affair with his wife Annette. Detective Griffin, whom she knows from another case, tells her the evidence points to Annette as the killer, but he doesn’t have a motive. The police know who killed Cecil and concluded his death had no connection to Celia’s murder. Tamara is not so certain and continues her investigation into both murders. The only evidence she has is Celia’s notebook in which she wrote the letters ABCD. She thinks if she can figure out what the letters stand for she’ll have the name of the killer. 
The investigation reveals things about her former best friend that Tamara never knew, including the fact she had a son. She also learns that when they were freshmen in high school Celia had her first sexual experience with one of the three big men on campus. Those three were seniors Drew Sampson, Larry Walton, and Clayton Donovan, all of whom went on to become important men in the community. Could one of them have killed Celia for fear she would reveal damaging information about him?

Wesley does an admirable job of delaying the identity of the killer until the thrilling last chapter. You will enjoy Dying in the Dark because it is one of those novels you won’t want to put down, not even to rest your eyes for a minute.

October 11, 2016

Don’t Look Back, The Devil May Be Following

PI Tamara Hayle is a tough, badass lady when facing down dangerous bad guys. When it comes to helping troubled teenagers, however, she takes on the role of a caring parent. The caring parent is on full display as she goes undercover to search for the runaway girl from a wealthy family in The Devil Riding, Valerie Wilson Wesley’s sixth novel in her Tamara Hayle series.
Dominique Desmond, the wife of wealthy Foster Desmond, hires Tamara to find her 18-year-old runaway daughter, Gabriella. Dominique didn’t go to the police because Foster said it would brand Gabriella as a runaway and embarrass the family name for people to know she's a troubled child.

Dominique thinks she ran away with a boy called Rook and is in danger. She learned that Gabriella shared an apartment in Atlantic City with Layne Grimaldi, a young woman Gabriella’s age, from someone who called her and gave her the number of the apartment. News reports in Atlantic City speculated that a serial killer on the loose might have killed Layne. The killer had murdered five women. Dominique worried that Gabriella would be next.

As the interview with Dominique ends, Foster and his son Carver enter the room. He is Gabriella’s stepfather, and Dominique is his second wife. Tamara’s immediate impression of him is he is the husband who most be obeyed. He seems unconcerned about Gabriella’s disappearance. Instead of providing any information, he orders Tamara to send her reports to the lawyer who recommended her and warns her not to fudge on the expenses. She suspects his attitude toward Gabriella might be the reason she ran away.

Young Carver walks with Tamara to her car. He seems not to care about Gabriella but, nevertheless, asks Tamara to call him first if she finds her because he must tell her something.

After not having any luck finding where Gabriella might have gone after leaving Layne’s apartment, Tamara goes undercover as a bartender in a suite in an Atlantic City hotel. In the suite Delmundo Real, a Dominican with a bad reputation, hosts card games for gangsters. The hotel manager tells her teenage girls have been seen going in and out of the suite. Tamara befriends Amaretta, a 16-year-old girl who tries to buy a drink. She watches Amaretta exit the suite in the company of Delmundo. Her mothering instinct kicks-in, and she begins thinking of how to rescue Amaretta as well as Gabriella. Tamara suspects, though Amaretta denies it, that she knows Gabriella.

Gabriel Wallace, Gabriella’s biological father, is no help. She came by his house but he claims not to know where she is. He isn’t worried because the Lord will protect her. However, his white wife, Louella, with whom Gabriella had been in contact, gives Tamara the address of Gabriella’s friend Jayne with whom she shared an apartment after Layne was killed. Gabriella left Jayne’s place without paying her share of the rent.

Jayne is later killed, and her death is attributed to the serial killer. Since there is no news of Gabriella being harmed, Tamara assumes she is alive and she must find her before the serial killer does. She also feels she must save Amaretta from Delmundo, whom she believes might be involved in the killings.

Though he doesn’t rescue her this time, Tamara’s complicated and enigmatic romantic interest, Basil Dupre, again enters the picture and warns her about the dangerous Dominican Delmundo Real. When she accuses him of being as dangerous and bad as Delmundo, he gives a lecture on good and evil as a way of explaining why he is not like Real. For the reader, the lecture reflects on what happens in the central plot—Tamara’s search for Gabriella.

The Devil Riding asks the question “how do we recognize the face of evil?” Once Tamara recognizes it through the revelation of the Desmond’s secrets, it shocks her. It also will shock you.

September 6, 2016

Moving On Up Is dangerous

In Easier To Kill, the fifth novel in Wesley’s Tamara Hayle series, a black woman survives rape by her foster father and teenage prostitution to become a famous radio host of her own show. But she can’t completely escape her past.

Mandy Magic, the famous host of a nighttime radio talk show, hires Tamara to find out who sent her a note with the words “Movin’ On Up” written on it. She received the note shortly after her cousin Tyrone Mason was stabbed to death in a city park frequented by gay men. The words are the title to the theme song of the 1970s TV show “The Jeffersons.”

A few days later, Mandy’s office manager and best friend since grammar school Pauline Reese is strangled to death. We are not told what is in the second not Mandy receives after Pauline’s death. The next victim is Kenton Daniels, III whom Mandy hired as a consultant. He, like Tyrone, is stabbed to death. Although the two men were stabbed and Pauline was strangled, Tamara believes the three murders are connected and that the connection lies in Mandy Magic’s past. Mandy doesn’t receive a note after Kenton’s death, suggesting maybe the killer is getting closer to her. She doesn’t want Tamara to investigate or talk to the police about the murders. She insists that Tamara confine her investigation to finding out who sent the notes.

Thinking about the murders and the words “Movin’ On Up,” Tamara believes the killer, in killing people close to Mandy, is moving on up to finally go after her. Thus, she fears 18-year-old Taniqua, Mandy’s adopted daughter, might be next while at the same time she considers her a possible suspect (telling you why would be a spoiler).

Tamara becomes frustrated with the case because she feels Mandy is keeping a secret from her. Mandy refuses to talk about her past and insists that Tamara not involve the police. Tamara’s frustration boils over, and when she confronts her uncooperative client and insists she tell her the truth, Mandy fires her. As Tamara leaves, she sees a man enter the house and follows him in expecting the worse. The confrontation between the man and Mandy reveals her secret. After learning the truth Tamara suffers a bout of deep depression. She admired Mandy and considered her a survivor because she moved on up from working as a teen prostitute to become the famous host of her own radio show.

EAISER TO KILL is short, only 193 pages, but the crisp, conversational prose maintains the easy flowing pace and the suspense from start to finish. The tension builds slowly and is not relieved until the very last page when the identity of the killer is revealed. The story of a woman surviving her soul draining past and becoming famous is both uplifting and depressing (though I’m not sure Wesley meant it to be uplifting or depressing). You’ll have to read it to find out why, after the revelation of Mandy’s secret, Tamara goes into deep depression.

August 10, 2016

Paying a Dead Brother's Debt

In the three novels I've read in Valerie Wesley Wilson's Tamara Hayle series, memories of her dead brother Johnny haunts Tamara. She struggles with forgiving him for committing suicide when she was in her teens. In the fourth novel, "No Hiding Place" she feels she must pay a debt she considers he owes to a man whom he mentored when the man was a boy.

Tamara reluctantly takes a murder case when Bessie Raymond visits her office and asks her to find out who killed her son Shawn Raymond. Tamara tries to explain that solving murders is the job of the police. Bessie refuses to take no for an answer and asks how much it’ll cost for two weeks of work on the case.

As the interview progresses, Tamara recognizes Miss Raymond who had lived in the same neighborhood as her family. The recognition triggers a memory of the young boy her brother Johnny mentored as part of “Project Touch and Change.” That young boy was Shawn Raymond. The relationship ended when Johnny killed himself. Not only did his death leave Tamara without a big brother, it also left the young boy without a mentor. She feels Johnny failed her and the young boy. Had he lived maybe Shawn Raymond would have had a better life and still be alive. She feels Johnny owes a debt to Bessie because in committing suicide he failed her son. She takes the case because Johnny “had always been a man who paid his debts” and now she must pay the debt for him. Besides, she needs the money.

Bessie admits Shawn Raymond was a drug dealer and gunrunner. From the police investigator, Tamara learns Shawn was shoot through the heart with a .38, and the gun hasn’t been found. The investigator suspects a rival might have killed him.

Bessie also said Shawn fathered two children. One is a 13-year-old boy named Rayshawn Rudell whose mother is Viola Rudell, a small woman with a reputation for violence. The other is a baby boy whose mother is Gina Lennox, one of the twin daughters of retired policeman Gus Lennox.

As Tamara continues what she considers to be a futile investigation, she gets involved with the Lennoxs, a middle class black family that remained in the South Ward when other black residents left. Gus is a local celebrity. He was the first black policeman to go undercover. He gained his reputation of as a good, tough policeman after bringing down the Prince Street Gang while working undercover. He has two brothers, Zeke, who spent time in jail, and the youngest Ben, with whom Tamara had an affair after she divorced her husband DeWayne. The two remaining relatives are his wife Mattie and his twin daughters Gina and Lena.

Shawn had an affair with both daughters. Lena, the rebellious daughter, moved on after introducing her sister Gina to Shawn. Shawn abused Gina and forced her to perform horrific and humiliating sexual acts. Since the Lennoxs hated Shawn and prevented Bessie from seeing her grandbaby, Augustus Lennox Raymond, Tamara considered all members of the family suspects, including mousy Gina. Viola Rudell is a suspect because she felt Shawn betrayed her when he took up with the Lennox sisters. The killing of Gina as she exits her car in front of the Lennox home eliminates her as a suspect and complicates Tamara’s theory of the case.

After she considers the three elements of solving a murder—motive, method, and opportunity—Tamara focuses on opportunity. About a fourth of the way into the novel, I guessed who was the killer and the motive. I continued reading because I wanted to see how Tamara would break the seemingly airtight alibi of the person she believed killed Shawn.

July 5, 2016

Don’t Talk To Strangers

In the detective novel, we watch the investigator practice the art of detection. When there is nothing to detect, it is not a detective novel. In Where Evil Sleeps, the third novel in Wesley’s Tamara Hayle series, our heroine’s problem is not finding a killer but how to avoid being accused of murder and, most importantly, escaping two men who think she has their money. The novel is, therefore, a thriller.

 As I was reading the novel, I wanted to yell at Tamara, “girl, didn’t your grandma tell you don’t talk to strangers when she told you the devil would get his due?” On vacation in Kingston, Jamaica, she walks straight into trouble with her eyes wide open when she reluctantly accepts the invitation of young woman staying in the same hotel. Twenty-three-year-old Lilah Love persuades her to go to the Stamp and Go Club with her, her husband Sammy Lee Love, and his friend Delaware Brown.

Inside the club, Tamara immediately senses trouble brewing when she notices three teenage thugs profiling in their hoodies and baggy pants and three men standing at the bar, two black and one white. Lacey, one of the black men, is a friend of Delaware Brown, whom he will later involve in a scheme to steal a black bag full of money. Trouble starts when the heavy drinking Sammy Lee accuses Delaware and Lilah of having an affair. He also accuses Delaware of double-crossing him. Suddenly, the lights go out and shooting starts. Tamara dives under the table, wishing that she had listened to her grandma’s voice.

When the lights come back on, blood is dripping on the floor and the hem of her dress. She crawls from under the table and discovers that Sammy Lee is dead, stabbed through the heart. Lilah and Delaware are missing. So is her Kenya bag with her money, passport and identification in it. She realizes she is a suspect in Sammy Lee’s death. She’ll have to dodge the Kingston police while trying to figure how she is going to get back home to Newark. But first, she has to get out of the club and back to her hotel room.

Coincidentally, Basil Dupre, whom we met in When Death Comes Stealing, is in Jamaica to bury his mother. In Newark he was the bad boy type whom Tamara almost slept with. He rescues her from the club and takes her back to her hotel. His cousin who works at the hotel sneaks Tamara back into her room.

Soon after Tamara returns to her room, Lilah bangs on the door. She wants Tamara to come back with her to Delaware’s place to get what she claims is her money. Tamara, again against her better judgment, accompanies Lilah. In her search of the place, Tamara finds Delaware dead in the bathroom. She looks for Lilah and discovers she has escaped through an open window. Lilah’s disappearance means Tamara is the only person who can connect the two dead men.

Returning to her hotel room, Tamara follows two guys she suspects are cops to Lilah’s room. She can’t get inside, but she sees Lilah’s red panties and a dress lying on the floor and assumes she is dead. Back in her room, she receives a phone call from a man asking where is his money. She finally realizes she needs help immediately, and calls Basil. He takes her to a house in the mountains that belongs to his friend Noel. Although she is still pissed at him for lying to her about himself, she accepts his offer to help.

The house is where our heroine will confront the real evil who is also searching for the bag of money.

The long passages of description about her relationship with Basil slow the pace of Where Evil Sleeps. Upon first reading, I thought the scenes were padding, but after further consideration, I realized Basil’s appearance is a plot device used to give the sense of time passing. Wilson does not subordinate plot to an exploration of Basil's character. The slow pace builds suspense and forces us to wait for the climax when Tamara will face the evil.

I like Where Evil Sleeps for the action that doesn’t involve any detecting. We get to watch Tamara exhibit some physical skills in this action thriller.