Blanche Passes Go: A Blanche White Mystery, by Barbara Neely*****

blanchepassesgo“Blanche’s mind rang with remembered slights and taunts, and echoes of that awful, heartbreaking instant of fear that was a part of every trip into the white world—a fear of being refused or given poor service because she was black, stopped by a cop because she was black.”

I finished reading Blanche Passes Go on the second anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, who was shot dead by a cop for jaywalking. Bernie Sanders, the candidate who fancies himself the liberal savior for all progressive-minded Americans, spoke here in Seattle that day. The purpose of his talk, apart from campaigning and fundraising, was to celebrate the birthday of Social Security. The speech was disrupted by a pair of African-American women who took exception to his myopia.

So I guess you could say that everyone, even those that don’t generally enjoy mysteries, ought to be reading this book right about now. In particular, if the reader is still trying to figure out why so many people, particularly people of color, get upset with the clueless slogan “All lives matter”, this book is here, just for you. Neely approaches issues of race, class, and gender in a way that is clear but not unkind. It’s her best work to date, and could not have been published by Brash Books at a more appropriate time. My great thanks go to them and the people at Net Galley for providing me with a DRC, and to Neely for laying it all out so that anybody who has a willing heart can get the picture.

In this fourth Blanche White mystery, Blanche has gone home to Farleigh, North Carolina for a vacation, and to try partnering a catering business with her best friend, Ardell. But Farleigh is a small place, and she can’t avoid running up against David Palmer, a Caucasian man that raped her. She never reported it, of course; were they really going to haul the well-heeled, powerful white man for a sperm sample, given the long history of Caucasian men raping Black women with impunity? Not likely! So when her long-simmering rage is ignited by the sight of him, she vows to not only get mad, but to get even as well.

Blanche White novels always have multiple threads that weave in and out of the plot line, but this is the most complex and impressive yet. Not only does Blanche have to grapple with Farleigh and Palmer, she is back in her home town, and her mama is still here. Like many women, Blanche has hit middle age and menopause with a renewed, powerful yearning to know more about her mama, who never stops talking but never gives away the personal information Blanche is almost begging for, and about her father, about whom virtually nothing has been told her. Blanche decides that once a person has children, their privacy is no longer as sacred as it was before, and a lot of personal information becomes family property. I loved that.

Well into the book, Ardell accuses Blanche of sounding exactly like her mother, and Blanche is dumbfounded to realize it’s true. I threw back my head and laughed out loud. It’s the rare woman that doesn’t hear her own mother coming out of her mouth sooner or later, and the moment was built so deftly and executed so well that it landed hard on my funny-bone.

Other Blanche novels have accentuated the protagonist’s tightly held independence. Here, she meets a fine man named Thelvin on the Amtrak coming into Farleigh, and at some point, she has to decide just how flexible (or inflexible) she is going to be.

Another component is Mumsfield, an acquaintance that has Down’s Syndrome and is about to be married to someone who may be after his money. This aspect of the story, like the others, is skillfully crafted. Mumsfield is not completely helpless, and the fact that he has Down’s does not make him Blanche’s friend, as he claims to be. There is still that division of white privilege. It’s not that Blanche could not have a white friend, but it would have to be someone with ownership of what that means.

Because all of these components are told in the third person omniscient, and because the writer is a complete badass, we are privy to all the intricacies involved here. Add a problem with domestic abuse next door to the Miz Alice where Blanche is staying, and you have an interesting stew indeedy.

Highly recommended.

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