Newest Review: ... of violence'. So far, so unoriginal. Female P.I.s have been around for over thirty years; to make a new one stand out and a com... more
Member Name: MALU
When Death Comes Stealing - Valerie Wilson Wesley
Date: 28/02/08, updated on 28/02/08 (116 review reads)
Advantages: a new P.I.
Disadvantages: no match for the old ones
DeWayne Curtis was married four times and has a son from each wife and one out of a relationship before his first marriage. When his second son dies, presumably of a crack overdose, exactly one year after the first was shot accidentally, he's afraid someone may be out for him, killing off his sons to take revenge on him. He begs his fourth ex-wife, Tamara Hayle, to help him who, although she hates his guts, agrees to look into the matter, mainly because her son, their son, may also be on the list - if there is one. This is the plot in a nutshell.
Tamara is an ex-cop turned P.I. dealing usually with unfaithful spouses and minor offenders which doesn't make her rich but keeps her afloat financially. She's remained single after the divorce, has two close female friends and two close male ones, a married and therefore platonic one who's goodness on two legs and a single, oversexed one whose only urge is to lay her, 'with an undercurrent of violence'.
So far, so unoriginal. Female P.I.s have been around for over thirty years; to make a new one stand out and a competitor for the established ones the author has to endow her with qualities the others don't have. Tamara has got a son, this is unusual, I don't know of any other female P.I. who's a mother, but here the son is vital for the plot, no son, no plot, so that I don't know if he's more important to give the main protagonist another facet or to help get the story going.
What may seem more striking is that Tamara is an African-American - just like the author, Valerie Wilson Wesley (born in 1947), this certainly distinguishes her from her colleagues, but does it make her qualitatively better? Of course not, that would be reverse racism, a book is good or bad no matter if it's been written by a white, black, brown or yellow, straight, gay, young or old man or woman, it only makes for interesting reading for a white readership used to white protagonists, here everyone is a 'brother' or a 'sister' and when a white person enters the scene, the colour of their skin is mentioned which wouldn't be the case in an all-white scenario.
A blurb on the back cover says, "Move over, Kinsey and V.I. to make room for Tamara . . ". Not for the first time I wonder if book reviewers read the books they review, Tamara doesn't shove Kinsey Milhone (heroine of a thriller series by author Sue Grafton) and V.I. Warshawski (heroine of a thriller series by author Sara Paretsky) aside, oh no, if she asks nicely, she may stand at the end of the line! The setting, the city of Newark, New Jersey, in the 1990s isn't presented in a fascinating way, its history of racial unrest is only touched briefly. The members of Tamara's ersatz family are one-dimensional characters with not enough quirks to make me want to get to know more about them, i.e. buy the following four books of the series.
Smart, sexy, thirty-something Tamara has potential, no doubt, but this character alone can't 'carry' the story which in my opinion is rather weak. It doesn't come as a surprise that two more sons of DeWayne's are killed and things look fatal for Tamara's son, but in this case one murder after the other make the story rather monotonous. The solution is odd and far-fetched, all in all I can say that plot-wise When Death Comes Stealing isn't the yolk of the egg as the Germans say (meaning it's not exactly brilliant). There's no depth in the story which is very well possible in a thriller, the aforementioned two female P.I.s do dig under the surface, Kinsey in personal relationships and V.I. in political and economic scandals in Chicago. Ms Wilson Wesley gives us the thrill and not much more.
So I don't recommend the book? Well, you could read it during a flight - and then leave it on the plane. :-)
The copy whose cover you can see at the top of the site seems to be out of print, but you can buy it for 0.01 GBP on Amazon Marketplace - an adequate price IMNHO.
Summary: the debut novel of Valerie Wesley Wilson