Saturday, February 14, 2015

Review: Blanche White Mysteries

Book Cover: Blanche on the Lam Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely
Published Sep 2014 by Brash Books
Source: eARC from NetGalley

Barbara Neely’s Smart, Sassy and Groundbreaking Crime Novel

Blanche White is a plump, feisty, middle-aged African-American housekeeper working for the genteel rich in North Carolina. But when an employer stiffs her, and her checks bounce, she goes on the lam, hiding out as a maid for a wealthy family at their summer home. That plan goes awry when there’s a murder and Blanche becomes the prime suspect. So she’s forced to use her savvy, her sharp wit, and her old-girl network of domestic workers to discover the truth and save her own skin. Along the way, she lays bare the quirks of southern society with humor, irony, and a biting commentary that makes her one of the most memorable and original characters ever to appear in mystery fiction.

Book Cover: Blanche Among the Talented Tenth Blanche Among the Talented Tenth by Barbara Neely
Published Feb 2015 by Brash Books
Source: eARC from NetGalley

When Blanche White moved north to Boston, she believed it would be a better place to raise her kids, especially after she got them into an elite private school. But now her children are becoming elitist and judgmental, acquiring more attitude than education. So when she and her kids are invited to Amber Cove, an exclusive resort in Maine for wealthy blacks, Blanche jumps at the chance to see how the other half lives and maybe stop her kids turning into people she doesn’t want to know. When one of the guests kills himself, and another is electrocuted in her bathtub, Blanche becomes an accidental detective once again, using her sharp wit and keen social insight to peel back some disturbing color and class distinctions within the black community that may have driven someone to murder.

My Thoughts

Originally published in 1992, Blanche on the Lam won the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel (1993), Anthony Award for Best First Novel (1993), and Agatha Award for Best First Novel (1992) for author Barbara Neely. It tells a story from the perspective of a black domestic worker in the deep south. When Blanche gets in trouble with the law over a bounced check, she's happy that a new job as a housekeeper takes her out of town when her employers relocate to their coastal get-away.

Blanche quickly realizes that something strange is going on within the family. The husband and wife are totally creepy and their ward, a young nephew with a developmental disorder is the only "normal" one. Blanche carefully watches what's going on and catches tidbits of some interesting conversations. While Blanche isn't sure what the whole story is, she's working very hard to keep a low profile. When a murder occurs, it's obvious that Blanche is going to be the prime suspect.

In Blanche Among the Talented Tenth, Blanche has moved to Boston from North Carolina. School friends of her kids have invited them to spend the summer at a coastal resort in Maine. Blanche joins them there for a couple of weeks, freeing the hosts to take a short “couples” vacation. The resort is a popular location for the rich and elite in the African American community. At the core are the Insiders whose families founded the resort and who own their cabins on the property. Outsiders are transient visitors who stay in the Amber Cove Inn. In addition to this divide, Blanche is confronted with the deep prejudice held by the light-skinned against those with very dark skins.

Just before Blanche arrives, one of the Insiders is killed when her radio falls into her bathtub. The victim was detested by everyone except her husband, and there's a possibility that she was murdered. Blanche joins forces with Mattie to find out exactly what happened and why.

I found both of these books to be pleasant cozy mysteries. But they were more than that. With recent events drawing attention to issues of race in America, I was continually asked to think about my attitudes toward not only those of color, but those who perform essential but menial work. And in the second book, the reader is exposed to a form of racism which exists WITHIN the African American community. I'm awarding 3 stars to each of these books.


Note that I received a free copy of Blanche on the Lam and Blanche Among the Talented Tenth from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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