Owen’s (Oregon Hill, 2012, etc.) hard-drinking Richmond reporter Willie Black has an inside track on a blockbuster crime story that’s "red meat for the on-the-airheads."
Richard Slade, a 17-year-old African-American, spent three decades incarcerated for the 1983 rape of debutante Alicia Parker Simpson, daughter of an old-money Commonwealth Club family. It was a he said, she said case relegated to an incompetent public defender. Slade ended up in prison. Now Slade is proven innocent by DNA technology. Free only days, Slade is jailed again, charged with Simpson’s murder. It’s another quixotic case for Willie Black, the perfect flawed hero, too often with the bottle, too often defying his bosses. Willie long ago lost a prime beat and was shuffled to night duty, but when an innocent guy takes the fall, Willie thinks first with his wrong-side-of-town, chip-on-the-shoulder mindset. Owen’s secondary characters are superb. Kate, an attorney and Willie’s ex-wife No. 3, allows Willie to rent her Prestwould condo and keeps him out of court when he picks up a DUI. She’s also on Slade’s case, seconding spotlight-hound Marcus Green, eager to prove "the racist system can’t do it." Willie’s marijuana-loving mother, Peggy, reappears, as does venerable Clara Westbrook, one of the Richmond elite and now a resident of Prestwould. Peggy offhandedly reveals that Willie and Slade are distantly related through Willie’s light-skinned African-American father, and Clara gives him the down low on Alicia’s society-maven sister and schizophrenic brother. Against a backdrop of advertising-suppressed investigative print journalism, Owen uses race and class, coupled with a Faulkner-ian family tragedy, to provide a powerful narrative engine. While the complex noir drama keeps the pages turning, crime-fiction buffs might identify the actual rapist early in the narrative, but the murderer and motivation complete the storyline perfectly.
A quick-flowing crime drama that will have fans eager for Willie Black to right another injustice.