Fans of mystery novelist Angela Henry’s Kendra Clayton series, rejoice. Delightfully intrepid, crime-solving sleuth Clayton is back, flying by the seat of her pants and as usual, two steps ahead of police detectives on the trail of a murderer.
Also par for the course, the closer she gets to figuring things out, the more her own life is in danger. On top of everything, Kendra would just as soon be left in peace, minding her own business, which is exactly what she’s doing when circumstance hurls her headlong, up to her neck in someone else’s troubles.
Far from formulaic, this time around Henry has come up with yet another way for Kendra to stumble into difficulty that she’d rather have nothing to do with but can’t see herself avoiding.
In “Doing It to Death” (Boulevard West Press), Dibb Bentley, about as unsavory a sort as you’re apt to come by, is freed from prison after a 30-year stretch.
Hell-bent on retrieving what he hid in the home of sad-sack, self-imagined “Mack Daddy,” Lewis Watts, he ends up dead in the trunk of Watts’ Cadillac. The evidence points to Watts, who is tossed in the clink and comes whining and crying to Kendra that he didn’t do it.
As distasteful of an individual as she finds him, Kendra strongly suspects the worst crime he’s guilty of is living like he was stuck in a ’70s “Blaxploitation” flick. So, she grudgingly looks into it, drawn in against her will, not to mention instinct for self-preservation, to save someone she wouldn’t spit on to put out a fire. From there, everything begins to gradually, inexorably go straight to hell.
Fiction writing Rule of Thumb: Your protagonist has an interesting line of work in a glamorous, exotic or at least exciting setting. Kendra is a part-time GED teacher with a night job hosting at a soul food restaurant in a small Ohio town. Henry makes it work beautifully as you engage with Kendra’s thoughts and feelings, most engagingly her wry wit and dryly pragmatic view of people.
If it weren’t for bad luck, you’d swear the poor woman wouldn’t have any luck at all. Especially when it comes to her perpetually frustrated love life. Yet, she determinedly perseveres and, by the skin of her teeth, handily prevails.
Henry is subtle, a sure-hand at image-rich immediacy. She has an unerring ear for dialogue and draws perfectly natural characters to whom you can easily relate. Importantly, the narrative flow is seamless.
From the outset, reading: “Lewis Watts stood in the doorway of Pinky’s Bootleg Joint and surveyed the crowd. He recognized everyone in the room because he’d just been drinking with most of them at The Spot less than half an hour ago.
“When The Spot closed at two in the morning, everyone who wasn’t ready to go home and still had money in their pockets headed for Pinky’s, an after-hours bootleg joint. Leroy ‘Pinky’ Buford was an ex-bookie who let people party at his house when the bars closed.
“He sold watered down drinks ran illegal card and crap games that everyone swore were rigged and let scandalous couples who wanted to hook up behind their significant other’s backs use the three bedrooms upstairs, all for a fee, of course.”
Tailor made for television, particularly, say, Lifetime or BET with an audience already in place thanks to prior Kendra Clayton successes (“The Company You Keep,” “Tangled Roots,” “Diva’s Last Curtain Call,” to name just a few), Angela Henry’s deftly entertaining “Doing It To Death” is, hands-down, another winner.
For more info on the works of Angela Henry, visit www.angelahenry.com or connect with her on Twitter @MystNoir.