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by Pearl Cleage

Pub Date: April 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-345-45609-2
Publisher: One World/Random House

Cleage (Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do, 2003, etc.) returns to Atlanta’s West End in this comedy-tinged thriller.

Catherine “Cat” Sanderson is one of many empowered single mothers living in the district. Her consulting business, Babylon Sisters, is thriving, and her teenaged daughter, Phoebe, is off to private boarding school for her senior year. So far, Cat has managed to deflect Phoebe’s insistent questions about her father by planting imagined lovers with real names in college-era diaries concocted to throw Phoebe off the scent. But this scheme backfires when Phoebe demands DNA tests from all the red herrings. Meanwhile, Cat has been recruited by the dulcet-voiced Sam Hall to work for Ezola Mandeville, once a maid, now a maid-service mogul whose company somehow makes a profit while managing to raise the domestic workers it employs out of poverty. Ezola wants to expand her operation to include immigrant and refugee women, a cause Cat embraces because her friend Amelia, a successful lawyer and lap-swimmer, has called on her to help Miriam, a Haitian exile whose sister Etienne has been abducted into sex slavery. But Sam’s “greed-is-good” cynicism has aroused Cat’s suspicions, and her life is further unsettled by the reappearance of Phoebe’s father, renowned foreign correspondent Burghardt Johnson (“B.J.”). Eighteen years before, B.J. left Cat on the eve of her abortion that never was. Now, he’s lending by-line cachet to the Sentinel, a historic African-American paper fallen on hard times. The editor and founder’s son, Louis, is Cat’s best childhood friend and Phoebe’s godfather. The Sentinel launches a series of exposés of a sinister syndicate trafficking in illegal aliens for cut-rate big box cleaning contracts and forced prostitution. B.J.’s investigation links Sam to the slumlord who houses the immigrants, and an attempt to enlist Ezola’s aid proves disastrous when Cat learns, too late, that Mandeville Maid Services really is too good to be true.

Witty and glib, with a cliffhanger ending that seems contrived.