Penzler Pick, September 2001:
This is the author's second book featuring Los Angeles homicide detective Charlotte Justice (the first was Inner City Blues
). Paula Woods, who earlier wrote Spooks, Spies and Private Eyes
, a fascinating nonfiction study of the African American sleuth in fiction, follows where other black women mystery writers such as Blanche Neely and Eleanor Taylor Bland have led, while putting her own stamp on the form.
While Charlotte Justice makes for an admirably complex heroine, always serious and ambitious in her approach to her law-enforcement career, what really lies at the heart of Woods's books (and gives them their complexity) is the relationship between Charlotte and the large, embracing clan to which she belongs. The "Nut House" is what she calls her parents' home, located in an upper-middle-class black L.A. neighborhood, and inside its walls there is always a surfeit of bantering, advice-giving, juicy anecdote-telling relatives on hand, a contemporary Greek chorus commenting on Charlotte's cases and on her life. Inner City Blues and Stormy Weather are both more than mysteries: they are the equivalent of family albums.
In her latest adventure, Charlotte sets to work, unofficially, on a case in which a legendary black filmmaker and social activist, the elderly Maynard Duncan, has just died of cancer. The trouble is that there is a strong possibility that his path apparently crossed that of a killer nurse known as the "Angel of Mercy," recently convicted in the deaths of several black men in geriatric care.
Several plot threads eventually converge, and some readers will undoubtedly complain that Woods provides a lot more talk than action. But, when all's said and done, her creative ambitions can only be applauded. Whether she's imagining an early 1940s black mystery film set in Watts (Murder in Mudtown, complete with musical numbers), or dispatching Charlotte on a dangerous collision course with a corrupt LAPD superior, Woods never shirks from the more difficult scenarios, the sort that can be pretty challenging to tidily tie up.
One of those satisfying mystery moments comes at the end of Stormy Weather when our heroine realizes that what she has been seeking has been hiding in plain sight all along. The denouement manages to be both melodramatic and satisfying, with all the loose ends firmly tucked away. --Otto Penzler
From Publishers Weekly
The suspicious death of respected black film director Maynard Duncan, a pioneer in his field, stirs up passions throughout the minority community's upper-middle-class enclaves in Woods's intriguing take on Old Hollywood from the African-American perspective. Detective Charlotte Justice finds herself more involved than she might like when the LAPD's elite Robbery-Homicide division gets the call. Having grown up in a family connected to the movie business, she feels that the investigation should receive the attention the victim's position and accomplishments deserve. Discovering the darker side of Tinseltown as she sorts through the events involving Duncan's wife and sister, the caregivers, the help, associates and even her own people, Charlotte is consumed with breaking down the reserve she senses in his family and friends to get at the truth. In the process, she confronts some of her own demons, coming to terms with the deaths of her husband and daughter (1999's Edgar-nominated Inner City Blues) while going up against the male superiors who make things rough for women on the job. And then there's the broad-shouldered Dr. Aubrey Scott, who's quite clear about his feelings for her. Woods explores the discrimination and exploitation of an earlier time and how they have evolved, as well as their long-lasting influences into the present in this savvy glimpse behind the celluloid curtain through the eyes of one very determined young woman.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.