Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Inner City Blues: Paula L. Woods

From the description of this book at W. W. Norton:
Meet Detective Charlotte Justice, a black woman in the very white, very male, and sometimes very racist Los Angeles Police Department. The time is 48 hours into the epochal L.A. riots and she and her fellow officers are exhausted. She saves the curfew-breaking black doctor Lance Mitchell from a potentially lethal beating from some white officers — only to discover nearby the body of one-time radical Cinque Lewis, a thug who years before had murdered her husband and young daughter. Was it a random shooting or was Mitchell responsible? And what had brought Lewis back to a city he'd long since fled?

Published in 1999, Paula L. Woods' debut novel won the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery in 2000. This is an excellent mystery which also gives us a look at what it felt like to be on the police force protecting the city during the riots and what it felt like to be black during that time of heightened tensions over racial disparities in the legal system.

I am not overly fond of detectives that come into a book with baggage, and Charlotte has a lot of that. She lost her husband and young child in a drive-by shooting, and ten years later she is still mourning them. Yet she is proud to be a police detective, even though the choice wasn't a popular one with her upper class parents and siblings. She is a believable and sympathetic character. Some of the harassment by male officers that comes her way is as much because she is a woman as that she is  black. I like the way Woods uses the structure of the mystery novel to insert subtle social commentary without preaching.

I have a weakness for series that use song titles for the book title. Two others I like are Martin Edwards' Harry Devlin series and Ed Gorman's Sam McCain series.

These are the remaining titles in the Charlotte Justice series:
Stormy Weather (2001)
Dirty Laundry (2003)
Strange Bedfellows (2006)
In Stormy Weather, Charlotte investigates the death of black film director Maynard Duncan, a pioneer in his field. I look forward to seeing where that story takes her.


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Publisher:  Fawcett, 2002. (orig. pub. 1999)
Length:     318 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Charlotte Justice, #1
Setting:     Los Angeles
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     Purchased at Planned Parenthood book sale, 2015.


20 comments:

  1. This looks interesting and I'm trying to think if I've ever heard of this author. Maybe. By the way, I love the fact that you often review and read the older books. I'm planning on going ahead and reviewing some of my older books as I reread them and also as I discover others to read. I never want these books and authors to be forgotten.

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    1. I do tend toward reading books written before 2000, Kay, and less of the ones after that. But lately I have read more newer books than previously. In most cases though I like to wait a while after they are published. And I like mysteries that don't use a lot of technology.

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  2. This does sound good, Tracy. I like books that give the reader a human- level look at bigger events and mindsets. It sounds as though this book does just that.

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    1. It does, Margot. I found it very interesting.

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  3. A few years ago, I read The New Centurions (1971) by Joseph Wambaugh. It had a similar setting - that of police during the 1968 LA riots. It was an odd sensation, riding through the streets with those officers.

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    1. I am glad you told me about that, Debbie. I have been wanting to try a book by Wambaugh, and this one sounds like it would be perfect.

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    1. I haven't read all of the Sam McCain series yet, Patti, and I want to get back to those books. Also, you introduced me to Ed Gorman's Dev Conrad series, and I haven't read all of those yet. So I have more to look forward to.

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  5. My ex gave me this book for Father's Day when it came out, and I loved it. Not sure why I've not read any others by Woods, Tracy, but maybe that was because I was deep into the Sam McCain series then, and Inner City Blues was more of a break from Ed's fine voice. Thanks for reminding me. I shall check out her later work.

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    1. I have the second in the series to read soon and think I am going to enjoy it, Matt. I have many series that I started reading, enjoyed a lot, and haven't returned to. Unfortunately.

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    2. Same with me, Tracy. I feel like a bee in a rich flower garden, flitting around trying to taste a little of everything. There's such a bounty of good reading out there.

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    3. You are so right, Matt. Makes it very hard to choose.

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  6. I remember running coming across this author in my search black detective fiction and have one of her books in my stacks so you're positive review is encouraging and will keep it in mind. Thanks for reviewing this one. ---Keishon

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    1. I want to read more by this author and also some other authors of black detective fiction, Keishon. I have more by Walter Mosley and Barbara Neely, but I am still looking for books by Eleanor Taylor Bland, who also wrote about a black female police officer.

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  7. Inspired by your review and the discussion, I'm reading Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley. For next Friday!

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    1. That is good, Matt, I look forward to your post on that book. I liked the book and the movie.

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  8. Sounds good, plus an author I hadn't previously heard of, but too much already I think. McKinty uses Tom Waits song titles in his Sean Duffy series. Not an artiste I especially like.

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    1. I did not know that the Sean Duffy series used song titles, Col. Thanks for that info. I do have the first in that series and it would be great if I can read that one this year.

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  9. I don't think I've heard of this one, I'm trying to think: I'd have thought I should if it won awards. I was living in the USA then, and just scooping crime books off the shelves! Anyway, it does sound good, I shall look this author up.
    And, I just looked up 'Woods' in my reading records to check, and this one wasn't there, but there was a collection of great books with Woods in the title! Colin Dexter, Nigel Balchin, Tana French, Reginald Hill...

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    1. It is good, Moira, and worth trying, and I would love to know what you think of it.

      As far as books with "Wood"in the title, I have read the books by Tana French and Colin Dexter, and I have two authors to add to the list: Cyril Hare and Ruth Rendell (one of the Wexford books).

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