Review: Death of a Blues Angel by Sarah Black

Rafael Hurt comes from Mississippi to play Blues guitar, and he’s hiding a dangerous secret. When a young girl is found murdered during Rafe’s first gig at The Blues Angel, Rafe and Deke Davis, a veteran reporter, have to find the killer before the secrets of the past explode into racial violence and destroy any chance for the love growing between them.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

This story is a little more modern than many of the books reviewed at this site. It takes place in 1966 with the civil rights struggles of the sixties as its backdrop. That is an interesting time in US history and certainly provides a wealth of material for plot and characterization. Unfortunately, Death of a Blues Angel didn’t quite live up to that promise.

The story takes place in Washington, DC. Rafael Hurt has come to the city with three legendary blues players who are very old, very famous, and very black. Rafe is white and of course that brings up the whole “do you have to be black to play the blues?” meme. Deacon Davis, a reporter for an unnamed Washington newspaper, gets sent to the club by his boss for Rafe’s premiere performance. Why exactly he has been given this assignment is not clear to Deke or the folks at the club, so there is lots of “eyeing each other suspiciously” going on.

The story opens with the murder of a young woman and her body is found at the end of the evening, which drives the rest of the story as a murder mystery with racial overtones. It is written to be very murky with lots of crossing and double-crossing going on. Trouble is, the actually mystery wasn’t much of a mystery at all, so the story just seems thin at its conclusion.

And thin, I guess, is the problem. The story clocks in at 51K words. If the author had written another 20K or so, and put some meat on the bones of the plot, I think, overall, Death of a Blues Angel would have been much better. Black writes well—all she needed to do was write a bit more to move this from good to very good—maybe even great. But in this iteration, it’s not there.

I have two major complaints. First, the pacing. The first third of the story takes place over the course of one evening in the club—maybe six hours. Then, for the rest of the book, things speed forward, covering days, then weeks, in a matter of pages. There is an epilogue which covers years. Personally, this drives me nuts. If a story starts off such that it seems like it will cover a day or two or three, then that’s the groove my mind gets into and I can’t stand it when time suddenly starts racing by.

My second complaint is grammatical, to whit: if a character is speaking and that character’s dialog continues into a second paragraph, then at the end of the first paragraph, you omit the close quotes, but include opening quotes at the beginning of the second paragraph. This signals to the reader that the same person is speaking. My understanding is that this is a basic grammar rule but for some bizarre reason it was not adhered to in this book, so I was constantly being jarred out of the story since I repeatedly had to go back to try to figure out who was speaking. I am not quite sure how an error like this would slip by an editor, but it did, and it really damaged the pleasure of my reading experience.

This is the first thing I’ve ever read by Sarah Black, although I know she is a popular author with many fans. Overall she does write well and I’d be willing to give another story of hers a try. Which is probably pretty high praise given my two major beefs. Hopefully those were aberrations not to be seen again.

Would I recommend this? Yes for Sarah Black fans, yes for folks who like interracial m/m romance, yes for those who enjoy simple mysteries that aren’t too hard to figure out. On the other hand, if you want a story that explores racial issues in the turbulent sixties and paints a realistic picture of that time in history, this story will ultimately disappoint.

Author’s website

Amazon USA

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