Soooo what have I been doing the past few months that I haven’t even appeared on my own blog? Well, recovering from a nasty breakup with my former publisher, Lethe Press, self-publishing my short story collection he put out of print, and reading for the Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley award for LGBTQI literature. We had over eighty–count ’em–eighty books to review, so that took up a tremendous amount of time. However, I’m back on as an even a keel as it gets for me, beginning the year’s reviews (albeit a scosh late) with one of my favorite lesbian mystery writers, Cheryl Head, and her latest Charlie Mack Motown Mystery.
As it does for every voter, jury duty comes to Charlie Mack–who can’t help but become involved in the trial she’s on. When she’s not on the watch for suspected jury tampering, she and Gil are also working a case that begins as an investigation of a college student accused of rape. When the supposed rapist comes out as gay, however, things take a different turn. And when the defendant gets wind of Charlie’s investigating the other jury members, things get dangerous in the courtroom as well.
You had me at ‘courtroom drama,’ because I’m old school and grew up on Perry Mason reruns–a sucker for relentless cross-examinations followed by angry and/or tearful confessions. And Head doesn’t fail to create great tension during those scenes. The exchanges are tough and terse and never get bogged down with extraneous stage directions. Head knows that the best writers gather their characters in a room and then butt out, letting them play off each other.
Interestingly, Head uses the post-climax lull to make a change in her cast of regular characters. I won’t say more for fear of spoiling it, but the move is savvy as hell because it promotes a great character who has been in the series from the beginning and says goodbye to another. Like one of my other favorite lesbian mystery writers, J.M. Redmann, Head is not afraid to shake things up to keep them fresh for herself as well as the reader.
Head is hitting her stride with this series, and it’s a treat to watch her work. I’m very much looking forward to the next one.
© 2020 Jerry L. Wheeler