Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The AP likes Willie

The Associated Press review of Evergreen, the eighth novel in the Willie Black series and my 18th novel overall, came out yesterday, and it was very pleasing. With any series, there is the fear that the latest installment will be met with something less than enthusiasm. It is my hope that each of the Willie Black mysteries will be a good read on its own, even if the reader has no previous knowledge of Willie. There is the fear that reviewers will not pay it much attention, being, in this case, the eighth book with the same protagonist.
That is why Bruce DeSilva's review for the Associated Press (which has a pretty big audience) is so encouraging. Bruce is a great mystery writer, much respected in the journalism and mystery writing communities.
Here it is:

The Associated Press
This cover image released by Permanent Press shows "Evergreen," a release by Howard Owen. (Permanent Press via AP)
“Evergreen,” by Howard Owen (Permanent Press)
When Willie Black was 15 months old, his father, Artie Lee, was killed in an apparent automobile accident. That’s all Willie — police reporter for a Richmond, Virgina, newspaper — knows about his dad. He’s never been curious about the man.
That changes when Willie’s aunt on his father’s side summons him to her deathbed. She’s been tending Artie’s grave in Evergreen, an abandoned cemetery, and now it’s up to Willie to inherit the chore.
Readers of Howard Owen’s underappreciated Willie Black novels already know that Willie’s father was black, that his mother was white, and that they weren’t allowed to marry in 1960s Virginia. But in “Evergreen,” the eighth book in the series, they’ll grow as curious as Willie about what really put Artie in his grave.
Finding out is no easy task.
Willie’s mother won’t say and urges Willie to drop it.
Artie’s old pals reminisce about his saxophone playing but clam up about his death.
The police chief says there were rumors that the car crash was no accident but has no details.
Old newspaper files are no help. The death of a black man didn’t merit a news story in 1961 Virginia.
Patiently, Willie squeezes a few minor details from townsfolk old enough to remember Artie. Each time he gets a scrap of information, he circles back, telling the witnesses what he knows and teasing out a bit more. He does this so skillfully that it is a pleasure to watch him work.
Eventually, he learns that Artie’s death was connected to a Ku Klux Klan rally, a car bombing and a series of betrayals by friends and relatives who were threatened by racist police officers unless they talked. The result is a conclusion that is both wrenching and satisfying.
Readers seeking the thrills of most popular crime fiction won’t find it here. Instead, they will find a textured, emotionally charged tale about coming to terms with growing up biracial in America told in the precise language of a writer who honed his craft during 44 years in the newspaper business.
Bruce DeSilva , winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

More Willie Black

My eighth Willie Black mystery, and 18th novel overall, "Evergreen," comes out in late July. In this one, Willie is asked to take over the maintenance of his late father's grave, in an abandoned cemetery on Richmond's East End. Willie didn't even know where his father was buried, but when he starts digging, so to speak, he finds out that there was a lot more he didn't know about Artie Lee.

I've been doing the Willie Black series for about a decade now. A ninth installment is coming; I'm finishing up the first draft. I find that there is no dearth of settings around Richmond for Willie's adventures and misadventures and hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I've enjoyed writing them. I'm sure that I will occasionally step back and write something non-Willie, like the well-received "Annie's Bones." However, I can't stay away from Willie and his large population of friends, family, enemies and frenemies for very long. It occurred to me early on, as I was writing the short story, "The Thirteenth Floor," that gave birth to Willie Black, that a hard-ridden night cops reporter in the waning days of print newspapers was a gold mine for anyone trying to write noir.

Evergreen Cemetery is on the far east end of Richmond. It is an African-American cemetery that was abandoned after it was built out and is now a ghost land of tombstones overtaken by kudzu and greenbriers, overshadowed by full-grown trees and only recently the focus of a major reclamation project. All in all, not a bad place to set a mystery.