June 8, 2016

The Bean Dip Murder Case

The major theme of crime novels, crime doesn’t pay, often serves as a foundation for examining social problems. The motifs involving such problems are what make the novels enjoyable. In her first Tamara Hayle novel, When Evil Comes Stealing, Valerie Wilson Wesley dealt with the relationship between fathers and sons. The Devil Gonna Get Him, the second novel in the series, is about the relationship between mothers and daughters.
Lincoln E. Storey, who rose from the mean streets of Newark to become one of the first black investment bankers on Wall Street, hires PI Tamara Hayle to follow a lady’s man named Brandon Pike and find out what game he’s playing. The thirty-year-old Pike is dating Lincoln’s 23-year-old stepdaughter Alexa. Storey suspects Pike is after his money.

Tamara once dated Pike after her divorce from DeWayne Curtis, but she doesn’t remember what he looks like. Storey suggests she attend a fundraiser he’s having for deputy District Attorney Stella Pharr who is running for a seat in the New Jersey state assembly. The affair will be held in the restaurant that Jackson Tate, an old friend of Tamara’s deceased father, manages.

Shortly after everyone sits down to eat, Lincoln E. Storey drops dead. At Pharr’s request, the authorities test the bean dip and discover that it contained peanut butter. The autopsy showed he died from an anaphylactic shock. Tasha Green, who prepared the bean dip, becomes the prime suspect. A month earlier at another dinner she suggested the perfect way to kill Storey would be to put some peanuts in his food.

What will Tamara do now that her client is dead? In need of money, she wonders if she can still collect the $1,000 fee. Her friend Wyvetta Green, Tasha’s older sister, comes to her rescue. She hires Tamara to find the real killer because she doesn’t believe Tasha did it. She can’t pay Tamara’s usual fee but she will pay what she can for a week of Tamara’s time. Tamara doesn’t like working for a friend, especially one who doesn’t have the money to pay her going rate. She needs the money, so she takes the case.
Each of the other five people who were present at the earlier gathering had a motive for killing Lincoln: his wife Daphne, though she claimed they were reconciled; his stepdaughter Alexa who just plain hated him, Pike who wants his money, Jackson Tate, whose restaurant Lincoln now owns, and Stella Pharr who might have had a romantic interest in him.

In Devil’s Gonna Get Him, we learn more about Tamara’s childhood. During the investigation, her observation of the volatile relationship between Daphne and Alexa triggers the dark memories of her abusive relationship with her own mother. Her mother was cruel and beat her in an attempt to knock all the black off. The normal and caring relationship between Wyvetta and Tasha is like that of mother and daughter since Wyvetta practically raised Tasha after their mother died, but this doesn’t change Tamara’s feelings toward her dead mother. She isn’t sure she can ever forgive her mother. The exploration into Tamara’s background adds complexity to her personality that makes her truly believable and increases the verisimilitude of the story.

The body count in Devil’s Gonna Get Him is down to only two, which makes for a tighter plot. The tighter plot makes it more difficult to identify the killer before the detective does. I haven’t named the second murder victim because it would spoil one of the surprises. This second novel in the series is as powerful and exciting as the first. I’m anxious to begin reading Where Evil Sleeps, the third novel in the series.