When you come from Detroit, you rarely see your hometown portrayed in a book–and when you do, it’s usually negative. For all its problems, which are legion, it’s still great to read something that touches landmarks you grew up with and doesn’t either deride or negate them. So, I was inclined to like Cheryl Head’s second Charlie Mack Motown Mystery, Wake Me When It’s Over before it really got started. Once it did, I was totally hooked.
Charlene “Charlie” Mack and her team of private investigators are hired by a consortium of auto dealers to protect the Detroit Auto Show from a possible terrorist attack on Cobo Hall. Is the threat coming from outside via the Chinese car manufacturers entered in the show, or is it masterminded by the security director himself, Geoff Heinrich? Mack’s friends at Homeland Security might know, but they aren’t in the mood for talking. So, what better reason to send in Mack’s girlfriend, Mandy, to do a little personal reconnaissance of Heinrich? But even she doesn’t know where the bombs are planted. Or who’s planting them.
In the course of this book, you will find out more about the structure and layout of Cobo Hall than you ever wanted to know. Sometimes, I felt as if I was reading all the whaling parts of Moby Dick in a row. Most of the info, however, gets used and what doesn’t makes other pieces of the narrative clear, especially when the investigative team starts trying to find the aforementioned bombs. Head includes a lot of details, but careful attention to their placement will make the climax even more rewarding.
And she has a great villain in Geoff Heinrich. Snooty and smarmy, he’s the kind of lug you love to hate. However, risking a bit of a spoiler, Heinrich isn’t the most detestable character here. That accolade would belong to Bernard Dudiyn, the despicable technician for the plan. And Head delights in portraying his least attractive characteristics most vividly. Lest you think everything is moving vans and Birkenstocks in LesbianLand, Head also brings a terrific tension to the Mack’s relationship with Mandy. Mack is newly out, and not particularly comfortable with their relationship being public. It might be the racial difference or even a touch of internalized homophobia, but whatever the origin of the difficulty is, it provides Head with some interesting territory to cover when she’s not working the mystery.
Wake Me When It’s Over is a nice, tight thriller–perhaps a bit slow to start, but very rewarding once it takes off. The dialogue crackles, the plot slides, and by the time the first third is finished, it’s running like a well-oiled Caddy. So, get a copy, climb in, and turn ‘er over.
See you on Woodward Ave.
© 2018 Jerry L. Wheeler