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by Eleanor Taylor Bland
St Martin's Minotaur, December 2004
272 pages
ISBN: 0312326653

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The lovely Chicago suburb of Lincoln Prairie has a foul undercurrent of prejudice, politics and pollution and is the setting for Eleanor Taylor Bland's latest mystery A COLD AND SILENT DYING. As in previous mysteries, Bland uses the work to explore social issues, and the existence of those who live on the margins of our society. Living and dying alone and without family or friends is the fundamental theme of this mystery ­- and it is clear in the novel that being homeless is not the same as being alone.

In this, Bland's 12th mystery featuring African-American homicide detective Marti MacAlister, DeVonte Lutrell appears again as the sweet-talking serial killer who preys on women and satisfies his soul with their murders. DeVonte has progressively declined in the course of Bland's works. When once he seduced women on cruise ships to gain their wealth, now he kills society's most vulnerable for pleasure -­ street walkers, the homeless and new immigrants without family or friends.

Some of those who die are truly alone, but others have found some semblance of friendship and family. DeVonte himself is surprised that he can return the love of an odd child he has abducted, in fact rescuing her from an abusive foster home. Some of the least sympathetic characters are those who are alone and in despair. Bland's message is that love and companionship give hope to life.

Marti and her partner, Vic Jessenovik brave the enmity of Lieutenant Gail Nicholson as they apply common sense and hard work to their investigations, thinking 'out of the box.' Nicholson, who is also African American, is particularly hard on Marti, the only other African-American female on the force, clearly trying to manipulate and frustrate Marti into quitting. Nicholson is presented as someone who is unloved and unlikeable, without a social or police support network and so is destined to fail.

Written in the third person, A COLD AND SILENT DYING repeatedly contrasts Marti's warm and loving extended family with the isolation and despair of those without friends or family. Those in her circle are protected, and Marti consciously and unconsciously seeks to bring others into the circle -­ an abused child, a lost man, dogs, uncertain friends, angry teens -­ where they are safe from harm. The closing scene of the book is Thanksgiving Day, when everyone is together: ". . . watching those she loved, she gave thanks. For this day and these people, for friendship and love, and even trials and pain and misfortune. łThe fabric of life,˛ Momma called it."

In the Marti MacAlister series, Eleanor Taylor Bland successfully portrays a believable and likeable African-American homicide detective, a strong female detective persona who is in touch with herself , understands her potential and values her strengths. She is part of the African-American community but is not limited to it or by it, moving easily between the cultural communities where she works and lives. In Bland's preface to SHADES OF BLACK (Berkley Prime Crime, 2004) , she notes that the presence and importance of the extended family is another important element of African-American crime fiction.

Well-paced and well-clued, A COLD AND SILENT DYING is a fast read, and a read that will cause the reader to reflect on significant social and cultural issues of our time. The book ends on a satisfying note, with justice served.

Reviewed by Maureen Battistella, December 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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