Vol. 1 No. 4 2008


Trouble in Newark
Wesley’s lady on a mission finds more than enough intrigue

Of Blood and Sorrow
by Valerie Wilson Wesley
One World Ballantine Books
January 2008
ISBN-12: 978-0345492715

Reviewed by Loretta H. Campbell

“I smelled her perfume before I saw her. It was heady and sweet, like ripe peaches left out in the sun to rot.” (page 1) says the redoubtable Tamara Hayle private investigator/ sister/heroine of this mystery. It is the most recent installment by the gifted Valerie Wilson Wesley in the Tamara Hayle series, which includes Dying in the Dark, The Devil Riding, and When Death Comes Stealing.

In her own inimitable style, Hayle immediately cherchezs la femme. The femme in question, one Lilah Love, is posing as a mother distraught over the “kidnapping” of her infant daughter, Baby Dal. The fact that she named her child after an Indian side dish tells you something about the kind of mother she is. Hayle takes the assignment to find the missing child, but soon learns that something stinks about the lady’s story, too. In fact, the baby is better off without her mother. Unfortunately, Ms. Love is in need of strong protection herself.

On the way to finding the little one, Hayle meets some fascinating characters among the Black upper- and lower-crust of her beloved Newark, New Jersey. With her sizzling metaphors, Wesley describes Baby Dal’s rich, paternal grandfather who may be the biggest threat in her life. A former pimp turned legit, he seems to have retained a predatory instinct in his office décor. “A narrow black couch coiled like a snake against the pale yellow wall and curled toward a stained-glass window that threw off a bloody red glow.”

Then there are the little girl’s poor maternal aunt and grand-aunt, who live in a huge Victorian house that they can barely afford to maintain. “The three story house was a tacky rebuff to its neighbors, which peered down like queens at a puddle of pee.” Both sides of this child’s family have secrets. Both sides love and want her.

Someone also wants Hayle… to go away and maybe permanently. Her investigation angers or frightens person or persons unknown. As a result, at least two people are brutally murdered, and her son Jamal is wanted by the police as a witness. Or, is it as a suspect? The veiled threats of two cops who want Jamal for questioning limn every Black mother’s fear for her child’s safety if in the hands of the police.

“I knew the deal with cops and black boys. Pull them over first. Ask questions later. Shoot before they answer sometimes. Always the suspect. Always the victim,” says a distrustful Hayle.

In light of the recent court decision about the police officers who killed Sean Bell, this passage is especially heartbreaking. Still, Hayle persists in the case because the murderer or murderers may feel that her son is a threat that needs to be eliminated. She has to stop them before they hurt or kill him. Along the way, she gets emotional support from her mysterious and elusive lover, Basil Dupre. He is a man of many parts, some of which may be criminal. Despite her love for him, Hayle wonders if he is responsible for some of the dead bodies accumulating in and around Newark.

The answer comes in the conclusion that is both satisfying and deeply troubling. Wesley provides sleep-depriving suspense until the very end. In some ways, her character does find the woman. Yet, she finds a lot more, and so do we.

Loretta H. Campbell is a freelance writer living in Queens, NY.

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