A DEATH IN HARLEM is a story of the Roaring Twenties. I haven’t read THE GREAT GATSBY since high school, but this book seems to be an excellent view of another slice of life in the same time period. Set in Harlem, as the title implies, it is also the story of how the people most like us, in the case of race for this story, are the ones who are going to be most awful to us.
The story focuses on a death, also as the title implies, which is a murder in the Negro (and I’m using that word because it is what the author uses in the story) community. It happens at a ritzy awards banquet to honor authors, and Zora Neale Hurston even makes a brief appearance, and the only police officer assigned to the event is the only minority officer on the force – Weldon Haynie Thomas.
Weldon takes it upon himself to do what few of the other police officers seem to want him to do and investigate the death of Olivia Frelon as carefully as possible.
Olivia Frelon was first thought to be white, by some, and known to not be white by others in the Harlem community. Vera Scott, a respected doctor’s wife in Harlem, is also fair-skinned enough that she can pass for white. This means that suspicion falls immediately upon Vera because… reasons, I guess.
To see, again and not for the last time, how it’s not as simple as black and white… how a larger group of humans, humans who call themselves “our people” and “community” and “family”, must always find someone that is just that much lesser than they are, even by shades of skin color, is both fascinating and disheartening.
In a good turn for A DEATH IN HARLEM, that makes for excellent storytelling and I really did like story. It’s a good, important book and I’m glad I got the chance to read it.
(Except for the random, unfinished side story of the vice-mayor’s son Wyckomb.)
(Thanks to NetGalley and Northwestern University Press for giving me the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)
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