Proof positive that despite the title of police reporter Willie Black’s fifth appearance (The Bottom, 2015, etc.), things can indeed get worse for both the city of Richmond and its daily newspaper.
No wonder Belman “Shorty” Cole, the paper’s own security guard, is angry enough to come to work with a gun he uses to threaten Willie, temporary publisher Rita Dominick, and whomever else is within shouting and shooting distance. Shorty’s 10-year-old nephew, a good kid named Artesian Cole, has gone missing; the police don’t seem to care; and his uncle is sure the boy's dead. Soon enough the discovery of Artesian’s body proves Shorty to be right, and Police Chief L.D. Jones rouses himself enough to arrest Sam McNish, who ran Children of God, an after-school program that had given Artesian some hope of pulling himself out of the city’s East End. The evidence against McNish is pretty much limited to the fact that he was the last person to see the boy alive, supplemented by a steady drip of insinuations about his inappropriate behavior toward his charges dispensed by teacher’s aide Stella Barnes, who turns out to be his spiteful ex-girlfriend. Willie’s inquiries suggesting that Artesian may be only the latest in a series of disappearances of young black males stretching back 20 years are suddenly eclipsed by the discovery of an even more recent victim, Pulitzer Prize–winning ex–city council member James N. Alderman, whose distinguished career of mentorship for people like Sam McNish ends when he’s tortured to death. This second murder clarifies things for Willie, but in ways that don’t sit at all well with Rita Dominick, and the race is on between his attempts to gather new evidence and her attempts to shut him down for good.
Owen uses his reflective, self-destructive hero to illuminate both the racial problems of his hometown and the ongoing death of the newspaper he loves, even though it doesn’t love him back.