Friday, February 28, 2020

To Be or Not to Be Easy Rawlins or Raymond ‘Mouse’ Alexander

This week's 7 Criminal Minds question: What black character would you want to be for a day? 

by Paul D. Marks

Denzel Washington as Easy Rawlins
As a sort of Part II to my last 7 Criminal Minds post (Easy Does It), in which we were asked to talk about “a source of inspiration you’ve derived from a black American author,” and where I talked about Walter Mosley and his characters Easy Rawlins and his psychopathic friend Mouse, in response to this week’s question, I would have to say that I’d want to be either Mouse or Easy for a day.

Part of me would rather be Mouse. He doesn’t care who he fucks up or what he does. But much as I like Mouse and his quick-draw instant retribution and justice, part of me would rather be Easy for a day…because it would be easier since, for the most part, he lives a normal middle class life.

Mouse is probably always looking over his shoulder, paranoid, waiting for someone to pop him. And while this happens to Easy sometimes and he gets into that frame of mind I think it’s less so for him and he lives a more normal life. He’s a property owner, he has kids and a house. He has friends. I’m not sure Mouse has many true friends. Some yes. But with a guy like Mouse are they friends or friends out of fear? Do they really respect him or do they just fear him? I think, on the other hand, Easy is actually respected and has friends who like him for himself.

Don Cheadle as Mouse
Yet, on the other hand, Mouse knows the streets. It would be hard to sneak up on him or get something by on him. Mouse is the guy you want backing you up and Easy goes to him when he needs fearless muscle.

Mouse is (mostly) loyal and a good friend, but that doesn’t mean an insult, perceived or otherwise, won’t set him off to the point of almost killing you, or even going all the way in that regard.

Walter Mosley
Mosley says of Mouse at Crime Fiction Lover ( ) “I always describe Mouse as small with rodent features—a light coloured [sic], light eyed black man who would kill you without a moment’s hesitation. The contradiction of his appearance and potential is what makes him so scary.”

Don Cheadle as Mouse (center)
Easy was born in 1920. And I’ve often said, when asked what other time I’d like to be born in, that I’d want to be born in 1920, then I’d be twenty in 1940. Do my bit in World War II, hopefully survive, and come out into the mid and late forties noir world. Okay, I know it wasn’t so great on a lot of levels, but there is that swing music, those noir movies, and those hats and trenchcoats.

And who wouldn’t want to be played by Denzel Washington in the movies? Who wouldn’t want to be the good guy like Easy, who saves the day?

All that said, fuck it, I’d rather be Mouse.

Raymond 'Mouse' Alexander

And now for a little BSP:  I’m running a free promotion for people who subscribe to my newsletter. You can get a FREE e-copy of my novel Vortex. Just subscribe. And if you’re already a subscriber and want the novel contact me via my website or e-mail and I’ll send you the link for the download.

I'm also excited to announce that I've got a new book coming out in 2020: The Blues Don't Care. It's a little different for me. It's set in 1940s Los Angeles jazz scene during World War II. I hope you'll keep checking in for more news on this exciting new release.


Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Daydream in B Major - by Catriona

What Black character would you want to be for a day?

Black History Month is almost over and here's the Criminal Minds question that's really been making my brain work as it approached.

First off, are we talking about a fictional character in the fictional world of a book? If so, then I'd happily be anyone at all except the victim, the perpetrator (especially one that gets caught), or a red shirt (dead in the first reel, for plot reasons). I'd happily be Michelle in John Vercher's THREE-FIFTHS. It's a heartbreak of a book but she's a great character.

But let's say we're talking about being a Black character in the real world, or in a world where anything can happen even if it's not in the book. Like one of those sociology/reality telly experiments where a white person gets disguised to walk around and "experience" racism? Uh no. Because if they "experience" a level of racism they decide they'd rather not "experience" after all, they could wipe off a stripe of the make-up, reveal the trick, and stop "experiencing" it again for the rest of their lives. 

That conceit always annoyed me as much as those gigs Barbara Ehrenreich and Polly Toynbee did, working for minimum wage and living on what it brought them to "experience" a loss of economic privilege. For three months. As if being stony broke for three months by choice is in any way like being poor for a lifetime. (Seriously, a columnist in a local newspaper here once set out to "prove" that people on welfare were feckless, by living on it himself for a period of time. He said straight out that he went to Costco and stocked up in advance of the adventure beginning.)


I do have an answer to the question, as well as a rant. The Black character I would like to be for the day, on these anything-can-happen terms, is Alexia Gordon's Gethsemane Brown, the African American musical director of an orchestra in a boy's school in rural Ireland, who lives with a ghost.

For a start, I'd get to be in Ireland for a day - meat pies, Tayto's crisps, russet apples/Persian pomegranates/local strawberries, depending on the season . . . 

And a ghost. That's not an experience I'm otherwise going to have.

Also, while I'm sure Ireland has racists - Scotland does - I know from my childhood and youth in *that* wee green drunk country we knew lots of American people were Black and took that as a neutral fact about an already exotic bit of the world. (We definitely thought most judges were Black women; anyone who grew up on seventies cop shows had that idea pounded in pretty hard.) So my guess would be that the reaction to an African American woman in rural Ireland would be one of interest, cluelessness and appreciation of a bit of glamour from overseas, rather than overt hostility and nastiness. Is this cowardice? Not entirely. I don't need to find out what racism feels like. (1) I know what sexism feels like and (2) I already believe Black people when they tell me.

Another reason for this pick is: Gethsemane is musical - she's a violinist - and I'm not at all. Wouldn't it be amazing to pick up a fiddle one misty morning and be able to play it?

Finally, Irish cops don't have guns. In fact, hardly anyone in Ireland has a gun. And I'm writing this on the anniversary of the murder of Trayvon Martin, who should be twenty-five now.

RIP Trayvon 1995-2012

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Dayna for a Day by Cathy Ace

What black character would you want to be for a day?

This is a challenging question. I have pondered it for ages. I know it's asking me about becoming a fictional character, but I have to acknowledge something here before I continue. I live in an ethnically diverse locale (out here, in rural British Columbia, there are only eight homes on our street: households include immigrants from Korea, Switzerland, Wales and the Indian subcontinent, as well as first generation Canadian-born German, Polish and Dutch, plus one family who have been in Canada for generations, with German heritage) but I honestly don't know how I would cope with being black, even for a day. 

You see, not only do I live in a basically white world, locally, but I also grew up in one. I had never seen a non-white person in real life until I went on a school trip from Swansea to Cardiff, the capital of Wales. I was thirteen. I'll never forget seeing a black woman, standing at a bus stop with shopping bags at her feet. I stared. We all stared. I wasn't the only teen on that bus who'd never seen a black person before. I marvelled at the number of non-white faces I saw in Cardiff on that trip. I remember telling my parents about it when I got home. In the years that have passed since then I have developed what I suppose might be called a "diverse" group of friends and acquaintances. I have never understood the readiness of people to judge a person because they have blue eyes, red hair, a shade of skin other than white, or a preference for a particular type of life-mate. I just cannot wrap my head around it. None of us have any choice about how or where we are born. Shouldn't we judge people by what they choose to become, rather than by their genetic code? That's how I try to live my life. 

But I am still struggling with this question because I'd find it hard to answer even if the question didn't ask me what black character I'd like to be - I'd struggle if it were any character, because I am quite happy being me. And most of the characters I read about/know have a pretty tough time of it, anyway. 

All that being said, I can acknowledge that I am at least a member of an invisible ethnic minority - I am a Welsh immigrant - but no one knows I'm an immigrant until I open my mouth and out pops a Welsh accent. I know people here in Canada who are a heck of a lot more Canadian than I am, because they, their parents, and their parents' parents were born here. They are TRUE Canadians. But their skin is not white. They look different. They tell me that some people they meet in their everyday lives, who don't know them, readily make assumptions about who they are, what they are like, and what their potential might be, based solely upon the color of their skin. 

I don't know how well I would cope with that. I don't think I am a particularly brave person, and I can only imagine how soul-destroyingly wearing it must be to be judged constantly on the basis of melanin. 

...if I have to choose to walk in a skin that's alien to me, whatever its color, and if it's likely to cause me to realise many hugely uncomfortable home truths about the reaction of non-black people to black people who are not known to them, I'd need it to be a character with enough spunk to get through the day, so...I’d like to be Dayna Anderson, from the Detective by Day books by Kellye Garrett.

Why? Well, she certainly doesn’t live a dull life, and I like her gumption. (I’d also quite like to have her youth, vigor, and figure, but you can’t have everything!)

There’ve only been two books so far (I hope it’s so far!) featuring this character, but she’s warm, resilient, unstoppable and I like her – so I’d like to be her, please. Thank you. 

Also – and I should be upfront and admit this – I like her creator even more than I like her. Kellye isn’t one of those people who sit about waiting for someone else to get something done that needs doing – she does it herself…and usually does it with aplomb and with a successful outcome. Not only an award-winning author, she's been instrumental in setting up a collective called Crime Writers of Color. So, if you take my advice you'll click through HERE to reach their website and allow yourself to be introduced to a host of talented crime writers, who offer well-written works across a wide range of crime sub-genres. Go on, treat yourself!

If you'd like to find out more about Kellye's work click here to reach her website.

If you'd like to find out more about my work, click here to reach my website. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Cool For a Day...

What black character would you want to be for a day? 

- From Frank

My answer might be a little controversial.

I want to be Wardell Clint.

Why controversial? Because Clint is a police detective who is first introduced in my novel with Colin Conway, Charlie-316. Choosing him could seem a little self-serving. But in keeping with why I would want to be him for a day, I'm going to forge ahead anyway.

So why would I want to be Clint?

Because he is great at his job. He is confident in how he sees the world. When he focuses on something, he is single-minded in his purpose. But most of all, because true to his nickname, the Honey Badger. 

Clint doesn't give a shit.

If Clint doesn't sleep well at night, it isn't due to self-doubt. Or worrying that others may think something about him that isn't true. If he misses some zzzz's, it's because he can't stop thinking about a case.

I admire that. Which is probably why he got written that way.

There is certainly some down side to being Clint. He is paranoid and given to conspiracy theories. He is socially awkward. He sees all the racism that is there, and some that isn't. A lot of people don't like him. But we're only talking about one day here, so I could easily live with the negatives of his character while reveling in the positives.

But since I already admitted that my first answer is more than a little self-serving, who else would I want to be for a day?

Bunk Moreland, from The Wire.  I would love to quote to you the many reasons why (one has to do with humility and anatomy), but this is a family channel, not HBO. And I already pushed my luck with the honey badger thing. Suffice it to say, though, that it is for some of the same reasons as I'd like to be Clint, with the added bonus of getting to meet some of the other great characters from The Wire.

On the flip side, how about Alonzo Harris from Training Day? Yeah, he's a bad guy, but he's also bad ass, and supremely confident. Besides, who wouldn't want to be Denzel Washington for a day? Just maybe not that particular day.

As long as we're talking the generational talent that is DW, his take on Creasy in Man on Fire was also pretty bad. As in good. As in tough. Again, if it wasn't that day, it'd be good to be him for a day. Alcoholism sucks, but I could do a single day of it as a trade off for the coolness factor. 

Are we supposed to be talking exclusively about books? If so, I'm one-for-four, and smacking of homerism on the one that hit. I don't imagine going for another movie, Morgan Freeman's Detective Lieutenant William Somerset, will even the scales, will it? But to be that smart, even for a day? Pretty cool.

Oh well. If I'm being honest, I haven't spent much time wishing I was other people. If I wish anything, it's that those other people like to read and will try out my books.

Oh, and that maybe someone like Michael B. Jordan or Sterling K. Brown will someday play characters in a film version of Charlie-316 (as Tyler Garrett and Wardell Clint, respectively).

It that were to happen, I'd want to be me for a day - on set, or in the movie theater, watching it all happen.

With Morgan Freeman narrating, of course.

Blatant Self Promotion Brought To You By Me

After all that talk of Charlie-316, here I am to instead push my new novel, In the Cut, from Down and Out Books.
This novel is the second in my SpoCompton series, which focuses on telling stories from the perspective of those on the wrong side of the thin blue line -- the criminals. 

Boone has been prospecting with the Iron Brotherhood outlaw motorcycle gang for almost a year, trying to earn his patch with the club. When a simple muscle job goes terribly wrong, his world changes forever. He is quickly plunged deeper into a world of drug and intimidation, and the lines between right and wrong blur. The bonds of brotherhood that he forges with other members clash with the dark actions they take. His girlfriend, Faith, represents a danger of another kind, but Boone can’t stop himself where she is concerned, either.

When someone closest to him dies, and rampant rumors of a rat in the clubhouse puts everyone in danger, Boone comes to learn what it really means to live his life…in the cut. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Meet Ms. Blanche White

Q: In celebration of Black History Month
What black character would you want to be for a day? Any black character?

- from Susan

My last post tipped my hand. I’d be Blanche White, Barbara Neely’s fictional hero, in a heartbeat. Sure, I’d learn by seeing through her eyes, living her black experience. But I’d also learn to stand up for myself, to see the world unblinkingly, and to let my real self shine.

Blanche is honest, not just in her interactions with other people (unless she’s sleuthing, when she is an undercover agent), but with herself. And when she suspects she may be letting herself off the hook, her inner self says, “Uh uh, woman, you tell yourself the truth now.”

Blanche is smart, smart enough to sniff out the facts from the posturing, the false statements (as in “I love black people”), and the cover-ups. She has it in her to understand what’s going on in the undercurrents of ordinary settings, and to follow clues that might not seem like clues to most people.

Blanche can get scared. She’s no Black Panther warrior woman, nostrils flaring, spear at the ready. She understands when she’s in danger and can retreat and think about a strategy before blazing forth. She’s been attacked and the memory can make her tremble, as it should.

Blanche is okay with herself. Sure, she muses that she might be a bit heavy. She looks in the mirror and has mused at least in one book that time is creeping onto her face. But then she shrugs, reminds herself she is a large, dark-skinned woman in a black society that too often elevates light-skinned black folk and so what? She knows she is sexy, can cook well, can laugh and flirt, and run rings around the smug people of all races she comes in contact with.

Blanche has empathy. She has the ability to see into people she meets in her community and in the white world, and to find the ways in which the experiences that shaped them are not wholly unlike her own and those of people she knows. Pure villains don’t get a pass, but people who’ve suffered get gentler handling. 

I wish I knew her. I wish she were real and I could buy her a cup of good coffee and just let her talk. I know I would like her. Would she like me? If I asked her (and I never would – that’s stupid) I am sure of one thing. She would look right at me and tell me. 


Friday, February 21, 2020

What's in a Name(sake)?

By Abir

This week's question: Review a black American author’s work that you think a white person would love

Wow. Okay then.

Interesting question. Bit of a weird one. I’m not really sure where to start.

I’m not white, so my first reaction was, ’how would I know what y’all would love?’.

My second reaction was – surely it depends on the white person in question? 

 Maybe it’s a North American thing, and I am conscious that your history has left you with a legacy that is racially charged and difficult in a way that maybe British race relations aren’t (though believe me, we have a truck load of difficult racial issues which we just don’t talk about), but the question almost feels like it’s putting people in boxes – that there are books which black people will love and books that white people will love, rather than just books some of us will love and others will not love, regardless of ethnicity.

It’s possible I’m misreading the question. Maybe it means – review a book that will give white Americans an insight into the lives of Black Americans, in which case, that’s a laudable aim, but not one that I’m particularly qualified to write about. I do have some favourite African American authors, chief amongst them being the peerless Attica Locke, who I think is one of the finest writers in the English speaking world today, regardless of genre. But Terry has already showcased Attica’s work this week, so I’m too late to do that. (That’s the downside of being on on a Friday.)

Instead, I’m going to talk about a different book from an author with a different background. It’s a book which touched me in a way few others have. It's the story of an Indian immigrant family to the US, and that book is The Namesake by Indian author, Jhumpa Lahiri, and deals with the themes of the immigrant experience: the clash of cultures; the conflicts of assimilation; and, most poignantly, the tangled ties between generations. 

Jhumpa Lahiri is one the most brilliant of authors of her generation, having won a plethora of awards including the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the PEN/Hemingway award. 

It’s the story of the Ganguli family, their emigration from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta, India through their fraught transformation into Americans. 

On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. 

When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the conflict of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd name. 

Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation American path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves. 

The book was bought for me, many years ago by my then girlfriend. That girlfriend is now my wife. That’s how much the book meant to me! And if you want an insight into the lives of immigrants to the USA who might not look like you, this is a brilliant place to start.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

My Cup of Tea: A Review by James W. Ziskin

Review an African-American author’s work that I love.

From Jim

I’m a sucker for well-written stories, no matter the genre. Add an interesting locale and a rich cast of characters, and I’m hooked. DEATH IN D MINOR, by Alexia Gordon, hits all the notes for me.

I met Alexia at the Left Coast Crime conference in Honolulu in 2017 when she was nominated for Best Debut Mystery Novel for MURDER IN G MAJOR. Spoiler alert: she won. That same year she was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First. Alexia is one of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet, at writers’ conferences, on airplanes, or in hospitals. Anywhere, for that matter. She’s a doctor by day, mystery writer by night, and a great judge of liquor when off duty. As impressive as her 80-proof credentials are, that’s not why I admire her most. Rather, it’s her Gethsemane Brown series from Henery Press. This four-book series featuring the take-no-prisoners classical musician takes place in Ireland. (The fifth book comes out March 24, 2020.) The African-American heroine has been stranded on the Emerald Isle due to a series of unfortunate events, but she makes the best of the situation by teaching music in a boys’ school and solving murders with a little help from some (dead) friends. Yes, this series features ghosts. And before you jump to to conclusions, I gotta tell you that it works. It just works. Think THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR meets Dorothy Sayers. The supernatural angle brings charm to the books without falling prey to frivolity.

I recently read the second book in this engaging series, DEATH IN D MINOR, and I loved it, as I did the first, MURDER IN G MAJOR. Granted, I’m a fan of music, but that wasn’t the only appeal. The artistic and musical references; the wonderful cast of characters, rogues, peelers, and potential love interests; suspects; and Gethsemane herself all contribute to the rich tapestry of DEATH IN D MINOR. There are tapestries, too, by the way.

Here’s the elevator pitch: Gethsemane strikes a deal with shadowy investigators to go undercover as a musician at a charity event to snoop for evidence linking art collectors to a forgery/theft/insurance fraud scheme. In exchange for her help, the authorities “might” clear her visiting brother-in-law of charges of theft.

The star, the sine qua non of this delightful book and series is, of course, Dr. Gethsemane Brown. A musical genius from Virginia, she has somehow landed in Ireland in the cottage of the late composer and ghost, Eamon McCarthy. In the first book of the series, the doctor and the ghost forge a memorable friendship and collaboration as Gethsemane clears the late McCarthy of the murder of his wife twenty-five years after the fact. But the supernatural element doesn’t end with MURDER IN G MAJOR. Gethsemane conjures a new ghost in DEATH IN D MINOR, a lovable eighteenth-century sea captain in search of redemption. Their banter is priceless, and the friendship forms one of the most endearing charms of this book.

Make no mistake, though. Alexia Gordon’s books are chock full of fascinating information about music, art, and history. The writing is so smooth and rhythmical that you know from page one that you’re in the hands of a masterful storyteller.

I’ve read harder-boiled books. And I’ve read cozier ones, too. I’ve learned that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, not in the genre classification. Alexia Gordon’s DEATH IN D MINOR is one book I’ll think about for a long time. I’m looking forward to more Gethsemane very soon.

Purchase link:m

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Underground Railroad

Review a black American author’s work that you think a white person would love.

by Dietrich

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is a gripping tale of escape from slavery in the deep south. It’s set before the civil war and looks at the network of black and white activists who helped slaves escape northward.

The story follows young Cora as she escapes along with other slaves from a Georgia cotton plantation, then tries to elude slave-catchers, patrollers, lynch mobs and informers. The almost-impossible pursuit takes readers from Georgia, through South and North Carolina, to Tennessee and Indiana. Cora runs for her life, finding a little help along the way, escaping through a series of rail tunnels, hiding for days in the dark under trapdoors, or in the attics of safe houses and barns, among the rats and bugs, with little water or anything to eat. Although it’s a book of fiction, one realizes the mountain of injustice she escapes and encounters has been ripped right from the history books.

The story’s told in Colson Whitehead’s powerful, matter-of-fact narrative, one that conveys the horrors of slavery and the daily brutality of life on the plantation that she escapes from. Here’s a passage that I think conveys the flavor of Colson’s voice and style:

“The whites came to this land for a fresh start and to escape the tyranny of their masters, just as the Freeman had fled theirs. But the ideals they held up for themselves, they denied others. Cora had heard Michael recite the Declaration of Independence back on the Randall plantation many times, his voice drifting through the village like an angry phantom. She didn't understand the words, most of them at any rate, but created equal was not lost on her. The white men who wrote it didn't understand it either, if all men did not truly mean all men. Not if they snatched away what belonged to other people, whether it was something you could hold in your hand, like dirt, or something you could not, like freedom.”

In the telling, the author both shocks the reader with the savagery of those times, and he gives cause to think of the imprint that those times have left these many decades later.

A couple of other books worth noting here are Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley. It was the first time out for Mosley’s low key black detective Easy Rawlins, a good place to start if you haven’t read any of the series. And another one to check out is Half-Blood Blues by Canadian author Esi Edugyan. It’s the story of a black jazz band who flee Berlin at the rise of the second world war. Many years later the surviving members of the group reunite for a reunion, looking back at those times.

And still, other great black American authors come to mind: Delia Owens, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker. And of course, there’s our very own Danny Gardner who wrote A Negro and an Ofay. If you haven’t read it, hurry up because Danny’s got a sequel coming out later this year; it’s called The Tales of Elliot Caprice: Ace Boon Coon.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

A writer for our time

Terry Shames here. Our charge this week is to review a black American writer that we think white readers would enjoy.

It almost feels superfluous for me to review Attica Locke. She has received  multiple award nominations, including Edgar Award nominations, and was winner of the 2019 Edgar award for Best Novel. I would leave her work to the expert reviewers, except that I’ve been a fan since her first book came out. When I read Black Water Rising, I was stunned and did something I’d never done before. I found her email address and wrote to her to tell her how profoundly it affected me.. I’m from Texas and she writes about Texas with such depth and breadth that it feels like a trip home. All too aware of the racial divide I grew up with, after reading it I felt hopeful for a future in which her books could tell stories that not only entertained but enlightened her readers. Every book she has written so far has served to support my original hope.

I was thrilled to be at the Edgars in 2018 presenting the Best Paperback Original Award when she won the Edgar for Best Novel. I got to meet her in person. For me, it was a “rock star” moment. I’ve read all her books and loved all of them, but I have a special regard for her first one, Black Water Rising.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

“(The novel) focuses on Jay Porter, a black lawyer in Houston struggling to become upwardly mobile while weighed down by a past as a civil rights worker who was betrayed and disillusioned. His moral fiber is put to the test when he's witness to a murder that eventually places him and his pregnant wife in jeopardy. It's a good thriller setup, but what distinguishes Locke's story are the glimpses into Porter's past, which, in turn, focus on the racial rebellions on campuses in the '60s… Dion Graham's whispery, almost sing-song narration seems initially inappropriate, but, oddly, as the plot unfolds, this approach morphs into a mesmerizing intimacy that makes Locke's riveting prose even more compelling.”

The novel received an Edgar nomination for Best First Novel.

Attica Locke’s voice is strong, her descriptions lush and real, her characters epic. But what I like most about her as a writer is that she is unflinching. She doesn’t hesitate to take on the bad side of her characters as well as the good.

She takes her place as not just one of our most important writers of color, but as one of the mystery world’s most important writers—period.

I have read all of Locke’s books, and recently read the Lefty Award-nominated Heaven, My Home.  What struck me is the vivid contrast between her first book and this one. Black Water Rising came out at a more hopeful time, 2009. Since then the political climate has changed, and along with it the climate of Locke’s writing. She captures the change in the political climate. Black Water Rising has a sense of grace and promise that makes a deep contrast to her latest. Heaven, My Home is a book the reflects rage and dashed promises. As “Black Water” is tender and romantic, “Heaven” is full of despair and betrayal. As I said earlier, Locke is unflinching.

I suggest reading all of her books in order not because they are a series, but because the reader gets a sense of the evolution of Locke’s growth as a writer.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Introducing Malcolm Gladwell

Review a black American author’s work that you think a white person would love.

Brenda Chapman here.

This week's question first proved a challenge for me. I can't say that I consider an author's ethnicity when I select a book and I don't slot the novels in my memory by the author's colour. However, in a happy confluence of events, I'm currently reading Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell, an author of some renown with Jamaican heritage. My neighbour and fellow book club member passed the book along to me at our last meeting.

First, about the author: Malcolm Gladwell was born in England but grew up in rural Ontario, graduating from the University of Toronto with a history degree. He now lives in New York. Currently a staff writer at The New Yorker, he was a reporter with The Washington Post, rising to its New York City bureau chief. Time magazine named him one of the top 100 influential people and Foreign Policy called him one of the 'top global thinkers'. In addition to writing several New York Times best-selling novels, he also hosts the podcast Revisionist History.

Talking to Strangers explores the way we size up strangers, the judgments we make based on initial interactions and our belief that we can judge a person's honesty and character by looking into their eyes and speaking with them. We also judge people by their appearance, bringing our own preconceptions and beliefs into the equation. The question is: why do these interactions with strangers often go so terribly wrong?

The book opens with the tragic police incident in 2015 in Texas, involving Sandra Bland, a black American woman who was pulled over for not using her turn signal. The encounter between these two strangers quickly escalated when Sandra refused to get out of the car. She was arrested and three days later took her own life in the jail cell. Was her arrest an act of racism or a police officer's incompetence? 

Gladwell goes on to show how various people have relied on their assumed ability to assess a stranger and how this has backfired. For example, the politicians such as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who met with Hitler just before WWII and came to believe that Hitler had no intention of invading other countries. Hitler convinced them that he was opposed to war even as he was plotting to invade Czechoslovakia ... for starters.

Fidel Castro also bamboozled the American CIA in a similar fashion in the 1990s. The CIA agents working covertly in Cuba had been secretly turned into double agents by the Cubans and they managed to convince their American handlers that they were loyal CIA agents despite failing regular polygraph tests. The handlers believed in their own instincts and ability to discern character over the scientific evidence. They were ultimately humiliated when the truth came to light.

Gladwell links moments and events in history to show "strangers are not easy". He wants us to rethink our interactions with people we don't know; to question why we believe what a stranger tells us while ignoring evidence that tells us the opposite. His writing is clear and concise, the historical narrative unfolds as a cohesive story that is entirely engaging and challenges one's thinking. His book is also well researched, the facts meticulously checked.

I've yet to read the finale of the story, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book based on the opening chapters. As the New York Times Book Review says, "Gladwell is as close to a singular talent as exists today." He certainly has me looking at events in a different light -  perhaps this book should be mandatory reading given today's dangerous political climate with an American president whom one might argue has learned from other dictators' playbooks the art of hiding his true motivations. On the other hand, he's also capable of being fooled, as demonstrated by his friendship with North Korea's and Russia's dictators and his belief in their assurances that their intentions are benign.

Finally, I'd like to pass along this link to the Crime Writers of Color website, and to quote from their main page, this is "an association of authors seeking to present a strong and united voice for members who self-identify as crime/mystery writers from traditionally underrepresented racial, cultural and ethnic backgrounds."

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Friday, February 14, 2020

Easy Does It

Discuss a source of inspiration you’ve derived from a black American author. How has their work affected yours?

by Paul D. Marks

Many things and many people inspire me one way or another. But as a mystery/crime writer, I really enjoy Walter Mosley and his character Easy Rawlins. And as much as I like Easy, I might even like his sidekick Mouse more.

Pretty much anyone who knows me knows I have a thing for L.A., past and present. LA history. LA culture. And novels and movies set in the City of the Angels. Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress (1990), the first Easy Rawlins novel, hits all those bullet points and I was blown away when I first read it when it came out. And, much as I Iike Easy, I really like his psychopath friend, Mouse. Not someone you want to get on the wrong side of but certainly someone you’d want to have your back when the you-know-what hits the fan.

I like how Mosley weaves in the history of the times he’s writing in. He has the ability to drop you into the time period so you really get a feel for what it was like to live in that time and society. His keen observations on society and race are peppered throughout his stories. I also like that he focuses on the social issues of the times, while still keeping the fast pace and intrigue of a hard-boiled crime novel.

Here in the opening lines of Devil in a Blue Dress you have a great example of voice. We get a taste of the narrator’s (Easy Rawlins’) personality and we want to know more about him. Yes, we’re intrigued by the white man who walks into the room, but the real grabber is Easy’s reaction and the little tidbit of his history that we learn about. His character draws us in:

I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy's bar. It's not just that he was white but he wore an off-white linen suit and shirt with a Panama straw hat and bone shoes over flashing white silk socks. His skin was smooth and pale with just a few freckles. One lick of strawberry-blond hair escaped the band of his hat. He stopped in the doorway, filling it with his large frame, and surveyed the room with pale eyes.

I had spent five years with white men, and women, from Africa to Italy, through Paris, and into the Fatherland itself. I ate with them and slept with them, and I killed enough blue-eyed young men to know that they were just as afraid to die as I was.

In White Butterfly, set in 1956 Los Angeles, Mosley and Easy deal with a series of murders of black women that go unsolved until a white woman is murdered and then the LAPD comes to Easy for help. Mosley comments on a well-meaning white librarian and provides us with insight into the complex relationships and racial tensions of that time:

…I was unhappy because even though Stella was nice, she was still a white woman. A white woman from a place where there were only white Christians. To her Shakespeare was a god. I didn’t mind that, but what did she know about the folk tales and riddles and stories colored folks had been telling for centuries? What did she know about the language we spoke? I always heard her correcting children’s speech. “Not ‘I is,’ she’d say. “It’s ‘I am.’” And, of course, she was right. It’s just that little colored children listening to that proper white woman would never hear their own cadence in her words. They’d come to believe that they would have to abandon their own language and stories to become a part of her educated world. They would have to forfeit Waller for Mozart and Remus for Puck. They would enter a world where only white people spoke. And no matter how articulate Dickens and Voltaire were, those children wouldn’t have their own examples in the house of learning—the library.

In my writing, I write all kinds of characters, including, black men and women. Howard Hamm in Ghosts of Bunker Hill is a black P.I. There are several black characters in the Duke Rogers series (White Heat and Broken Windows), and also in my upcoming novel The Blues Don’t Care, set on the L.A. homefront during World War II. And you could say that at least in part they were inspired by Walter Mosley, Easy Rawlins and Raymond ‘Mouse’ Alexander.


And now for a little BSP:  I’m running a free promotion for people who subscribe to my newsletter. You can get a FREE e-copy of my novel Vortex. Just subscribe. And if you’re already a subscriber and want the novel contact me via my website or e-mail and I’ll send you the link for the download.

I'm also excited to announce that I've got a new book coming out in 2020: The Blues Don't Care. It's a little different for me. It's set in 1940s Los Angeles jazz scene during World War II. I hope you'll keep checking in for more news on this exciting new release.


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