Death Comes Stealing is the first novel in Valerie Wilson Wesley’s Tamara Hayle private detective series. Tamara is the single mother of a 14-year old son and an ex-policewoman who quit the force and opened her own private investigation business, the Hayle Investigative Services, Inc.
Tamara’s ex-husband, Dewayne Curtis, hires her to find out who might have killed his son Terrence. He suspects a conspiracy against him because his oldest son, DeWayne Junior, who lived in Virginia, was killed in a robbery on the same date, October 4, a year earlier. This was the first time she knew he had a son older than Terrence. He has been married five times and has sons by four of his legitimate wives and one, DeWayne Junior, by his common-law-wife. Tamara is the mother of his youngest son Jamal. His current wife is 22-year-old Carlotta who has no children but is a problem for Tamara and DeWayne.
Tamara is on talking terms with DeWayne but doesn’t trust him and isn’t too happy about his asking her to get involved in his mess. She was married to him for five years and never discovered how he earned his money. There was always something shady about him. Since the PI business hasn’t been too good lately, she needs the money, so she takes the case. Soon after taking the case, she finds herself investigating the death of two of his other sons while trying to protect Jamal.
After a thorough inspection of Terrence’s room in the boarding house where he lived, Tamara doesn’t accept drug overdose as the cause of his death. She becomes even more skeptical when DeWayne’s third son Gerard is found dead five days later in the bathtub in his paternal grandmother’s house. His death is ruled a drowning accident. Tamara’s friends Annie and Jake advise her to send DeWayne a bill and drop the case.
She considers doing so when, five days later, the fourth son, Hakim, is killed. His death is clearly murder since someone in a car shot him. Jamal was with him and witnessed the shooting but couldn’t identify the person in the car. Tamara, realizing Jamal is next and that she has five days to find the killer, travels to Salem, Virginia where DeWayne grew up to find the answers to why and who is killing his sons. In Salem, she discovers a lot about DeWayne that he never told her.
About a third of the way through the novel, I identified the killer. My guess wasn’t based on the clues but on the least likely suspect. Although I was right, I don’t like identifying the killer before the detective does. I don’t enjoy pitting my investigative skills against those of the detective. I prefer to watch the detective as she gathers and interprets the clues. I still however enjoyed the novel because I wanted to see what clues Tamara uncovered and how she would interpret them.
When Death Comes Stealing is the type of first novel that invites the reader to long for the other books in the series. Wesley’s conversational prose style makes the characters come alive. I felt Tamara Hayle was sitting across from me and telling me about her experience as a private detective. I didn’t learn as much about her background as I would have liked. Her brother Johnny committed suicide when she was in her teens, which continues to bother her. I look forward to discovering more of her backstory and watching her tangle with some bad people in the other novels in the series.
A bibliography of Wesley’s novels are on the Goodreads website. For more about her, you should visit the “About the Author” website here. And don’t forget to visit the font of all knowledge on the Internet, Wikipedia.
Shout out to Gary Phillips for his very informative article “The Unacknowledged: Black Crime Fiction, the Roaring ‘20s to the 1930s” in the Los Angeles Review of Books.