published by the Penguin Group, 1994
Long ago, I ran into a woman I otherwise respected reading a romance novel, and, knowing she had a gay husband, I joked that this type of fiction was a "squirrel cage for the heart." Turning the joke on myself, a loather of romance novels and reader of mystery novels, I dubbed mysteries as "squirrel cages for the mind." But even this cheap form of mental exercise can be done well or badly. To me, the best mystery novels are the feminist ones, and I prize the names of feminist series writers who can be relied upon for multiple works in this genre.
Eleanor Taylor Bland is such a writer. In this book, the third featuring her black female detective Marti MacAlister, Bland deals with the painful and hard to face subject of child sexual abuse and its long-term consequences. The book before it in this series, Slow Burn, which I have not yet read, but hope to, deals with arson against an abortion clinic and child pornography.
I like the tone of Bland's books. Her main character is sensible, respectful of others, cautious but not timid, and has a good sense of herself. She takes note of sexism but she picks her battles. She brings an urban sensibility to a small-town police department, and sometimes contrasts the police forces of the two locales. She is widowed with a daughter and shares housing with another single mother. She is recovering from grief and has a prospective boyfriend who is a widower and a single father. I know from books I have read from later in the series that Marti and Ben do become a couple, but in Gone Quiet they are only starting to get beyond just-friends. Unlike many mystery novels featuring female detectives, this one doesn't rely on a romance-novel subtext to appeal to women readers.
Bland herself is a woman of colour, which not always the case with writers who have lead characters of colour. This spares one the uneasy feeling attached to reading books in which an author appropriates a culture not his or her own (even if the authors do what seems to be a bang-up job of a good read, like Tony Hillerman's Navaho detective series and Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency set in Botswana.)
Bland was born in Boston on December 31, 1944, earned degrees in Accounting and Education from Southern Illinois University (accountants figure as characters in Gone Quiet ), and moved to Waukegan, Illinois in 1972. According to the Who Dunnit website, "The town of Lincoln Prairie, fictional location for her novels, is actually a mix of Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion." This site also reports that Bland is a charter member of the twenty-year-old feminist mystery writers group Sisters in Crime.
As of this writing, there are at least 13 published books by Bland, and luckily I have only read three of them, so I have a treat ahead. Here's the list as found on a UK site:
1. Dead Time (1992)
2. Slow Burn (1993)
3. Gone Quiet (1994)
4. Done Wrong (1995)
5. Keep Still (1996)
6. See No Evil (1998)
7. Tell No Tales (1999)
8. Scream in Silence (2000)
9. Whispers in the Dark (2001)
10. Windy City Dying (2002)
11. Fatal Remains (2003)
12. A Cold and Silent Dying (2004)
13. A Dark and Deadly Deception (2005)
Since that list was published, she's released:
Suddenly A Stranger (2007)
There's probably one for 2006, though I haven't located it on the web yet.
She's also edited an anthology:
Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African-American Authors (2004).
Capsule descriptions of this and ten of the mysteries can be found on the African American Literature Book Club site
The photos on this page are borrowed from the African American Literature Book club and from a biography/criticism site online called V/G - Voices from the Gaps
Additional link of interest: http://www.answers.com/topic/eleanor-taylor-bland