This is a read one get one free type of crime novel with lots of humor delivered by dialogue. First there is the primary mystery from page one to page 328. (I read on a Kindle, your page numbers may vary). Cassandra Scott is a fourteen-year-old molestation victim. Who did it? Even when we find out she was molested by Toes (a name, not an appendage) there are lots of questions remaining. Hero, poet, and almost private detective Talba Wallis wants to pursue and develop any leads to bring Toes to justice. Cassandra makes this more difficult as her and her party-going colleagues refuse to identify the man with the ridiculous name, Toes. Solving the mystery following a linear path from beginning to end of the book is the first big mystery. A quick resolution is desired because people Cassandra’s friends begin disappearing. It turns out Toes is not a nice man. Few psychopaths are.
Mystery number two is embedded in mystery one. Talba discovers leads to solve Cassandra’s problems but each one serves as a trigger for hidden memories in Talba’s past. She doesn’t know her father. Miz Clara, Talba’s mom, refuses to mention his name and gets very angry if Talba asks any questions about him. So far Talba’s research of documents has only revealed one name, her birth name, Urethra Tabitha Sandra Talba Wallis, also known as the Baroness de Pontalba. OK, the last part was not on her birth certificate; it is a title she conferred on herself while promoting her career as a poet.
Talba initially doesn’t think of herself as a detective. She is a poet, but that doesn’t pay the bills. After answering a rather tongue-in-cheek ad offering employment, she meets aged, experienced, outdated detective Edward Valentino. Old in experience as a street detective, he barely had the computer skills to answer emails and he didn’t intend to learn at his advanced age. Other social attitudes follow logically for the brain-fossilized Eddie. He has a stereotypical attitude towards African-Americans that we have come to expect from a white guy raised in New Orleans. Talba, however, is a modern, free thinking poet and computer whiz, just what is needed in the one detective and one not very competent secretary agency. She will learn all she needs about being a detective while serving as an intern with a provisional license to Eddie.
The novel is fast paced partly due to the plethora of themes. Race relations are covered very well not by confrontation but by acceptance of the existence of attitudes and positive steps to encourage change. And it’s done with humor. There is a layman’s examination of repressed memories, of how powerful they can be, of how difficult it is to force them to surface. There are the stories of parent-child relationships, first between Cassandra and mother Aziza, then between Talba and her mother Miz Clara. There is a romantic story going on at the same time, between Talba and Darryl, a high school guidance counselor who has been through a marriage before. There is the story of the music “scene” with associated drug use and criminal conduct that includes murder. Guess where “Toes” comes from. And nope, it is not a spoiler to have mentioned his role a few times in this review.
And there is poetry; after all, the Baroness is a poet.
This is the first book in the Talba Wallis series. I am sure I will read follow up novels to vicariously enjoy her experiences as she becomes a more experienced detective.