Everett Carson, publisher of Diaspora newsmagazine, has been named ďJournalist of the YearĒ by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). Ev is slated to accept the coveted honor at an awards banquet on the last night of organizationís national convention in Los Angeles. As the dinner begins, the honoree is nowhere in sight.
A frantic NABJ president dispatches Alex Powell to get him. Alex, currently a Los Angeles newspaper columnist, once worked for Ev and they have remained friends. When Alex arrives at his suite, she finds that time has run out for the man of the hour. Everett Carson has been murdered.
As the convention comes to a close, many of the possible witnesses and probable suspects have left Los Angeles. The police enlist Alexís help through her newspaper. Sheís got exactly one week away from her job to find out who killed Ev Carson and why. Her cross-country trek takes her to Evís colleagues, cohorts and consorts. And, as Alex poses the who, what, where, when, why and how questions, an interesting picture of Everett Carson and of those who knew him begins to emerge.
Plain Brown Wrapper is the irreverent debut novel by Los Angeles Times columnist Karen Grigsby Bates. I was reeled into the novel by the promise of the premise and I wasnít disappointed. As an NABJ member, I havenít had this much fun with a book since Jill Nelsonís journalistic memoir, Volunteer Slavery. Spending time with Plain Brown Wrapper was like being on the safe end of an inside joke - with very sharp teeth. I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions.
Plain Brown Wrapper lacks the darkness, grittiness and pathology often associated with mysteries set in Los Angeles. Karen Grigsby Bates, whose earlier work was Basic Black, a primer on etiquette for African Americans, has now created a mystery of manners. Alex and her circle are well educated, well traveled members of the black middle-class who wear their successes - and disappointments.
The author has written a story of class and color. These are not your average coffee and doughnut gumshoes. Alex and her friend Paul Butler find that no clue worth discovering can be unearthed without the inclusion of good food and good wine.
Plain Brown Wrapper is not a perfect book. There are a few new author gaffes. But in Alex Powell, the author has created a humane character who is feisty and funny. Alex is a welcome addition to the growing number of African-American sister sleuths Iíve come to enjoy. (I wonít begin to name them because the last time I omitted a few, I got e-mails from more than a few TMR readers!)
For readers looking for a change of pace, I recommend Plain Brown Wrapper. Iím looking forward to the next Alex Powell story.