Blanche on the Lam
Book 1 in the Blanche White series
Author Barbara Neely
Narrated by Lisa Reneé Pitts
Published by Tantor Media
Publication date Sep 20, 2017
I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
Blanche White is a plump, feisty, middle-aged African American housekeeper working for the genteel rich in North Carolina. But when an employer stiffs her, and her checks bounce, she goes on the lam, hiding out as a maid for a wealthy family at their summer home. That plan goes awry when there’s a murder and Blanche becomes the prime suspect. So she’s forced to use her savvy, her sharp wit, and her old-girl network of domestic workers to discover the truth and save her own skin. Along the way, she lays bare the quirks of southern society with humor, irony, and a biting commentary that makes her one of the most memorable and original characters ever to appear in mystery fiction.
At the beginning of this audiobook I was concerned about the narrator’s pronunciation of several words, and although she did good voices I felt she had a hard time staying in the character and sometimes it felt like someone just reading a book out loud. Otherwise, I thought she showed range in portraying disabled, elderly, African American and “Southern White” accents. I cannot find the words that bugged me in the ebook.
I loved Blanche’s compassion and feeling for the mentally disabled as well as her loyalty and endless curiosity. A big woman who is unashamed of her size, she has made good and bad decisions in her life. and she owns them. She is stronger than all the crap and people who are always trying to keep her down.
This was originally written in the 1990s and I believe is supposed to happen in the 1970s. It stays in its time, possibly because the early 90s were not so fundamentally different in how people communicated and some advances I hope have been made. I like some specificity in placement of a story in time. This one is rather loose, with no dates and no current events.
While a mystery occurring in the American South this is also a series beginning. This may be why it felt a little slow with a bit too much minutiae. I don’t need to know there was one ice cube or a lemon slice.
Blanche is paired up with an ally among the enemy in this book, a 25 year-old man with Downs Syndrome; although it is called by his aunt by another name. This is an interesting team of two classes of people, African-American help and a Mentally-Disabled man, who people underestimate as far as intelligence, observational skills, tenacity and ability to reason. Blanche knows the syndrome well, pointing out how long it took for people to stop addressing her as if she is a child and how long before they treat her like a real person. But she finds herself doing the same with her ally – Mumsfield. She does this almost to the end of the book. I was surprised by the post climax ending – and while I had an inkling as to the culprit, I wasn’t sure.
And ultimately, this is a book about race with character relationships in a similar set of conditions to the book THE HELP, by Kathryn Stockett (Published February 10th 2009 by Amy Einhorn Books) but written 17 years earlier. It’s interesting is that there is not a single substantial, decent, white character except Mumsfield, the young man with Downs Syndrome. Whites in this story are unseeing and uncaring because of both race and job. And, honestly I am uncomfortable discussing race because it’s such an explosive issue.
I approached this as an interesting cozy mystery set up a little differently and not as a sub-genre of Black Women Sleuths. The race issue felt confrontational and all pervasive; maybe the lesson is that for people of color it is all pervasive. It certainly affected all of Blanche’s workday and much of her leisure time. It makes me sad that race was an issue in 1992 and still is an issue today. Is it the same or different?
That it is salient regardless of when it was written does not speaks well of our progress.
I think it was well done and made me think more than the average cozy. I would enjoy reading another in the series.
Author’s Website is Disabled but She is on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/92194.Barbara_Neely