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.

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