Thursday, January 07, 2016

Blanche on the Lam (by Barbara Neely)

I'm still making my way through A Little Life, but it's the kind of novel that requires a break for some lighter fare, so I chose a book that was recommended by the Goodreads group for the Read Harder challenge, a "cozy mystery" that is the first in a series by a person of color.

The point of view of the main character, an African-American housekeeper named Blanche White, is challenging and refreshing. I absolutely loved Blanche. She's intelligent, perceptive, and often  analyzes the world around her in terms of racial subtext -- as the housekeeper in the home of Southern rich white people, there is a lot to mine here. Sample quote: "Blanche was unimpressed by the tears, and Grace's Mammy-save-me eyes. Mammy-savers regularly peeped out at her from the faces of some white women for whom she worked, and lately, in this age of the touchy-feely model of manhood, an occasional white man." There are a lot of complex interactions with white people, fellow black people to whom she feels immediate loyalty, and white people she likes but whom she won't quite allow herself to fully care for. Blanche's perspective throughout is complicated and compelling.

I found two negatives with this book. First, the premise bothered me: the book begins with Blanche running away as she's being sent to prison for check fraud. The idea that nobody would track her down (when there is an obvious trail to follow) and that there wouldn't be major, immediate consequences for her actions was so ludicrous that it was impossible for me to suspend my disbelief. The second issue was the mystery itself -- it takes half the book for a murder to actually happen. I enjoyed Blanche's perspective so much that I wasn't completely put off by this, but I think it's a failure in pacing. And the plotting of the central mystery is not bad, but also not particularly awesome.

That being said, I enjoyed this novel despite some flaws, and I will definitely give the next one in the series a try. 


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