Friday, January 4, 2013
FFB: Room to Swing - Ed Lacy
Toussaint Marcus Moore is a private detective hired by Kay Robbens, a TV executive, to shadow the subject of a soon to be aired reality TV show that sounds exactly like a 1950s version of "America's Most Wanted." The man, Robert Thomas, is wanted by Ohio police for a rape and assault of a teenage girl and Kay know he is currently living under an assumed name in Manhattan. Moore is to keep an eye on Thomas and make sure he doesn't leave New York until the show is aired. Then Kay hopes some TV viewer will spot Thomas, notify police, and he'll be arrested thus validating the purpose of the TV show and insuring it has a long run. But Thomas ends up dead, Moore is framed for the murder, and he flees the city. Moore is determined to clear his name, but in order to do that he needs to uncover who killed Thomas and why. He figures it's all linked to the rape case.
His travels take him to Bingston, a small Ohio town on the Kentucky border, where he holes up in a makeshift boarding house owned by one of the few black couples in town. This is good for Moore because as a black man himself with an opinionated, unguarded way of speaking he was nearly run out of town by the bigoted police officers in Bingston. He finds an ally of sorts in Frances Russell who immediately sees through his bad impression of an itinerant jazz musician. She will serve as his captive audience (and later a sometime assistant) as he tells his tale to her in a series of flashbacks.
Room to Swing is a fantastic book. Well written, smart without being smart alecky, prescient and insightful in ways that make it seem like you are reading a book written only a few years old rather than decades old. The mystery is a good one if not one that has jaw dropping surprises, but what makes the book noteworthy are the well drawn characters and Zinberg's insights into black/white relations. Touie is one of the best of the earliest of the black private eyes. It's a shame he only appeared in two books.
For more on Ed Lacy I suggest you read Ed Lynskey's well written and very detailed article at Mystery*File. A review of the follow-up book The Moment of Untruth featuring Toussaint Moore in his second and last appearance in an even better constructed mystery than the one here, will be posted tomorrow. Ed Lacy is one writer I'm glad I discovered and whose books I am rapidly acquiring and reading with great interest.