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BLACK ORCHID BLUES – “Hairy in all the wrong places.”

July 24, 2011

Black Orchid Blues

by Persia Walker

Akashic Books

270 pages, 2011, $15.95

What’s it like to experience another time, say Harlem in the 20’s? You can read history and look at photo books but nothing is better at pulling you into the experience than a mystery story in which you have to participate (along with the central character) in making sense of the disparate elements.

There’s the transvestite, Black Orchid, who is kidnapped, the society writer who is there—she is still grieving her dead husband—and a cigar box mis-delivered to her intended for the very conservative family across the street containing a severed finger and a demand for a ransom of $25,000.

There is also a backdrop of different times:

On the way I stopped at a grocery store between 142nd and 143rd Streets on Lenox Avenue, just over from the Savoy Ballroom… Large, alternating black-and-white diamond tiles decorated the façade. The windows were stocked with goods. Hand-painted signs advertised milk for six cents a gallon and Pepsi-Cola for five cents. Inside, there were the usual tin ceilings and hard maple floors….

There’s a terrific cover by Owen Smith and Persia Walker, a former news writer for the Associated Press, keeps things hopping. In fact that’s my criticism. There are too many twists and turns, so that after awhile a reader signs,“Whatever.” And the Jekyll and Hyde bit pushes the story over the top (though the author does everything anyone could to make it credible). Whoever thought it was pacing that made Hammett and Chandler so great, but that’s exactly where this story stumbles. The marvelous backstory and settings, lost.

Order directly from amazon for $11.96.  Click here: Black Orchid Blues

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One comment

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