Sunday, August 07, 2005

Paula Woods' novels about justice

Paula Woods writes a mystery series about an African-American woman L.A.P.D. detective named Charlotte Justice whose main concern is getting justice in Los Angeles. I've just read the 2nd and 3rd novel in the series: Stormy Weather and Dirty Laundry. Woods’ first novel, the excellent Inner City Blues, takes place during the devastating 1992 riots, but Stormy Weather takes places during the so called rebuilding after the riots.

Both of Woods' novels are good, fast paced detective stories. In Stormy Weather the heroine Justice investigates the suspicious death of a pioneering black film director Maynard Duncan, who is her father’s generation. Woods says as a child she was fascinated by black actors in early Hollywood films, so in this novel she gave these pioneering actors a history of their own, showing how these Hollywood black pioneers fought prejudice.

Also Justice’s supervisor Lt. Firestone has been sexually harassing Justice and Detective Gena Cortez, so Justice’s search is for personal justice as well as to solve the mysterious death of Duncan. The two women don’t trust one another but still suffer racial and gender discrimination in the LA.P.D. so they must unite to fight this harassment.

Stormy Weather establishes Charlotte's life as part of a upper middle class black family in Baldwin Park. The family scenes and conflicts are well drawn. The novel includes fascinating tales of how the heroine's parents, her uncle, and also the film director pushed their way into the upper middle class by sheer force, brains, hard work, and determination. Charlotte is always in conflict with her upwardly striving mom who doesn't like her daughter working at the L.A.P.D. because the mother thinks police work is too low class and too dangerous. Stormy Weather as an excellent detective story capturing the the history of African-Americans long struggle for decent treatment and opportunities in Los Angeles.

In Dirty Laundry, in contrast, Woods paints a good portrait of mid-1990s Los Angeles when detective Justice investigates the murder of a Korean-American journalist Vicki Park, who is working for a Latino candidate wanting to be Los Angeles’s 1st Latino mayor. What's great is the description of Los Angeles east of La Brea starting when a multi-cultural crew of cops--white, Korean, black--converge on the Koreatown location where the dead woman is found. During the investigation Justice works with Asian Task Force Det. Young "King" Kang, to help solve the crime.

Also, Woods highlights the dirty politics of the mayor race where twenty-four candidates –black, white, Latino, Jewish--are running to replace the retiring black mayor. Many of the candidates and their consultants--Latino, black, Jewish, Anglo-- collect dirt on each other and then proceed to spread it around. Dirty Laundry is the first book I've read to describe this new post-Rodney King riots Los Angeles multi-cultural world where opportunities abound for graft, corruption, honesty, and integrity. It's a fascinating read. What Woods also does well is have her heroine Charlotte Justice concerned with justice just like Chandler's once were. Woods is a novelist we need. Read her!

3 comments:

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J said...

What's strange but consistent throughout your scribblings is the assumption that some sort of sexual-racial identity of authors should be defined and specified and only then should their works be read/analyzed/critiqued: i.e.,
"I'm reading some 80's detective stories written by handicapped lesbian women from eastern Ukraine and they sure are swell."

Some of us don't read like that, and to think that you might convince angelenos that they should sort of choose some currently hip PC category of writing and then read the writing is nearly stalinist...hate to break the news to ya, but Alice Walker is not accorded some "authentic hipster writer" status simply due to her being black and having a vagina. Her writing is realy pretty f-n abysmal (as is Morrison's) and a PC "identity" doesn't improve it in the least.

I read and reread Raymond Chandler, and I don't assess something like "Farewell my Lovely based on RC's presumed racial or even political identity, but for more literary reasons: he uses the language creatively and effectively and also raises or hints at political-social issues which are historically interesting as well as pertinent to the current state of LA corruption and decadence.

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