Crime is increasing
Trigger happy policing
Panic is spreading
God knows where we're heading
"Inner City Blues" by Marvin Gaye
Paula L. Woods declared her love for mysteries four years ago with the publication of the anthology Spooks, Spies, and Private Eyes: Black Mystery, Crime, and Suspense Fiction of the 20th Century. The collection is a labor of love that combines stories by nearly two dozen African-American writers with biographical sketches and a chronological overlay of the heretofore overlooked Black presence in the genre.
The anthology begins with Pauline E. Hopkins, whom Woods calls the foremother of African-American mysteries, and an excerpt from Rudolph E. Fisher’s 1932 novel, The Conjure-Man Dies: A Mystery Tale of Dark Harlem. It includes better known names like Chester Himes, Walter Mosley, Eleanor Taylor Bland and BarbaraNeely. Spooks, Spies, and Private Eyes: Black Mystery, Crime, and Suspense Fiction of the 20th Century is a recommended source book for those interested in African-American mystery writing.
Inner City Blues marks Paula Woods' logical progression from mystery aficionada to mystery writer. Using the 1992 Los Angeles riots as a backdrop, it is a gripping story of murder, racism, sexism, class and color that introduces Woods' heroine, LA police detective Charlotte Justice.
The character takes her name from the rioters’ battle cry: “No Justice, No Peace” while the title, Inner City Blues, refers to the police officers who work the urban areas and to Marvin Gaye's prophetic 1971 song.
Detective Charlotte Justice has been assigned to streets on riot duty following the acquittal by an all-white jury of the Los Angeles policemen accused of beating Black motorist Rodney King. Hers is a first-hand account of the devastation and racial polarization that has engulfed her native
LA. During a racially charged confrontation in the streets, Charlotte saves Dr. Lance Mitchell, a prominent Black physician from a beating at the hands of her fellow officers. Her colleagues and the “Old Boys Network” close ranks to prevent an internal investigation of the incident.
When Dr. Mitchell's wallet is discovered near the body of 70s radical Cinque Lewis, the physician becomes the prime suspect in the murder. Charlotte has a personal stake in the investigation. Cinque Lewis has been hiding underground since he murdered her husband and baby fourteen years earlier. Lewis' murder forces her to confront old demons in her past -- including a relationship with her high school crush and Mitchell's partner, Dr. Aubrey Scott.
Woods' characterization and pacing are excellent. As the plot twists, the author maintains complete control. In Charlotte Justice, we have a tough, street-wise cop who is not afraid to show her softness and vulnerability. She is a complex character with many layers I expect to be revealed in subsequent Charlotte Justice mysteries. Woods has created a myriad of supporting characters every bit as complex as Charlotte. They peacefully coexist within the story without getting in the way.
Inner City Blues marks a new phase in Paula Woods' literary career that I look forward to following. It has earned Paula Woods a spot on my Emerging Authors list. Charlotte Justice is a wonderful new character can rightfully take her place among Tamara Hayle and Marti MacAlister.