A pulsating mystery set in uptown Manhattan.
Pitts’ debut series opener follows Shelba Rook, a recent transplant to Harlem. Rook, an “itinerant barber,” served in the armed forces sometime in his shadowy past, but now he’s a chronically drunk, penniless, and directionless man living in a hotel-turned-brothel known as the Auberge Rouge. In the opening scene, the Auberge Rouge has just burned down, and Rook is the only tenant to walk out of it alive. Without a home, a job, or an income, he miraculously lands a position at the Ross Agency, a local, well-connected private investigation firm run by the seasoned PI Norment Ross and his sharp, beautiful daughter, Sabrina. This role helps Rook to get back on his feet; he wins favor with Norment as a capable partner and begins dating Sabrina while taking on cases that introduce him to his diverse neighborhood. The novel weaves in and out of his various assignments, involving, among other things, the security detail at an exclusive party, multiple crimes of passion, and whispers of possible arson at the Auberge Rouge. Rook is a modern, hard-boiled antihero; as the story carries on, he demonstrates ability, humility, decency, and respect and concern for Harlem and its inhabitants. However, Pitts resolves all of his protagonist’s assignments in just a few pages without much mystery or depth, and they don’t effectively connect to the overarching story of the Auberge Rouge; instead, they feel unimportant. The book ends rather suddenly, wrapping up the Auberge Rouge mystery in the last few pages without much intrigue. That said, Pitts lovingly illustrates what life is like in a vibrant Harlem, showing people from different walks of life, nationalities, and socio-economic statuses. The neighborhood features prominently not only as a setting, but as a character all its own.
A brief mystery that lacks a strong central narrative but offers endearing characters and a strong sense of place.