Storme Warning, by WL Ripley****

stormewarningStorme Warning is the fourth and thus far final installment in a terrific series. I have read three, and will read the fourth if I can find it. The snappy patter and nonstop action and suspense make it hard to put down once you’ve begun. I rate it 4.49 stars, and thank Brash Books Priority Readers Circle for providing me with this DRC in exchange for an honest review. The book is available for purchase right now.

Wyatt Storme is retired from football. He divides his time between his cabin in Missouri and another cabin in Colorado; this story takes place in Missouri. He owns a considerable piece of land because after having the press follow him hither and yon for the duration of his NFL career, he craves simplicity and solitude. “Reclusive”, as his best friend Chick explains to an outsider.

Because all of a sudden, Wyatt’s land is chock full of outsiders. Hollywood director Geoffrey Salinger wants to shoot his hot new movie on location; his star has received death threats, and Chick has been tapped as bodyguard. Wyatt doesn’t like it much, but Chick wants the work, so he agrees to tolerate the intrusion, but he sets terms in a way that provide him with an unusual amount of control over industry hotshots that aren’t accustomed to leaving the driver’s seat. Combine this scenario with the smart, snappy patter between Wyatt and Chick; throw some 70’s song lyrics into the narrative as if they are merely part of the story; add some mobsters from out of town; and you have a really fun, fast-paced story.

The final .51 star is denied because of the way the author deals with race. He means well to be sure. But racist terms that are sprinkled in an almost nonstop stream throughout the book are going to make this a prohibitively painful book for most African-American readers. It’s true that Ripley uses the “n” word and other slurs (against other races also, but mostly Black folk) to determine who is a bad guy, but when one is close enough to the heat those terms create, all the fun stops as soon as the word appears. It’s like finding a rattlesnake in the cookie jar; you’re having a good time, expecting good things to continue happening, and then, bam, there it is.

Depending on who you are, it’s enough to take your breath away.

To be sure, I don’t know what it is like to be a person of color; I am not one. But for many years I have been the only Caucasian person in my house, with others here being either Asian, Black, or mixed, and I do know what it is to be the wife and mother of people that don’t enjoy white privilege. The “n” word and others like it are serious, serious things. And insult is added to injury by having the African-American character unable to enter a scene without race issues being the first to fall from his lips. Most Black people don’t really want to engage white people in discussions of race unless it’s in a formal political setting, and even then, it’s more comfortable to talk to another person of color, or a room that is mostly people of color. But LeBeau is clearly in this story for no purpose other than to be the Black character. He isn’t developed, and what is worse, he isn’t capable of much that is positive. As with the Black girl in the brief restaurant scene, a white guy has to come to the rescue. To depict all characters of color as victims and set them up to be saved every stinking time by Caucasian characters is inexcusable. (LeBeau tries to carry off a rescue once, but it doesn’t work out, and Chick emerges the hero once more.)

Should the writer continue the series, I recommend that he simply use white folks, if that’s his comfort zone, or include multiple people of color and develop them. Give them characteristics beyond coming into the room and making readers aware they aren’t white. And don’t diminish them by making them unable to stand up for themselves or others. I further recommend not using that word, ever again. It’s cheap and easy, but it costs some readers dearly. I would not give this book to my son to read. The pain would outweigh the enjoyment; in fact, I guarantee he wouldn’t finish it. There are more subtle yet unmistakable ways to demonstrate that a character is racist, if that is a key goal. There are other ways just to show that a character is a bad guy, too.

Hollywood and television have learned how to create actual characters of color, as opposed to casting someone to “be the Black guy”. Ripley has skill enough to do the same.

I’ve given the downside of this novel more space than the 90 percent that I enjoyed, but I have done so because no other reviewer I’ve seen so far has addressed it, and someone has to do it.

With the single clear caveat provided here, this fast-paced, mostly-funny detective story is recommended .

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