Blanche Among the Talented Tenth


Book 2 in the Blanche White series
Author: Barbara Neely
Narrator: Lisa Reneé Pitts
Published:  Feb 12, 2019
Publisher: Tantor Media
Running time 10 hrs

I voluntarily reviewed an advance reader’s copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.

The second, ground-breaking mystery featuring African–American maid and amateur sleuth Blanche White by Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Award–winning author Barbara Neely.

When Blanche White moved north to Boston, she believed it would be a better place to raise her kids, especially after she got them into an elite private school. But now her children are becoming elitist and judgmental, acquiring more attitude than education. So when she and her kids are invited to Amber Cove, an exclusive resort in Maine for wealthy blacks, Blanche jumps at the chance to see how the other half lives and maybe stop her kids turning into people she doesn’t want to know. When one of the guests kills himself, and another is electrocuted in her bathtub, Blanche becomes an accidental detective once again, using her sharp wit and keen social insight to peel back some disturbing color and class distinctions within the black community that may have driven someone to murder.


My Take Oblong Shaped


There have been many days in the past few years, when it has become apparent that the problems that we have a long way to go for people of color to be granted total equity in the American dream, that I have felt guilty for being white, for having access to privileges I have never even questioned nor, often, been aware.  Of course as a woman there are still inequities in my life as well, but I am the first to admit that female and white is an easier skin to wear. 

The title refers to “The Talented Tenth is a term that designated a leadership class of African Americans in the early 20th century. The term was created by Northern philanthropists, then publicized by W. E. B. Du Bois in an influential essay of the same name.” . The implcation is that only the talented tenth would be at this resort.

I listened to the first book, Blanche on the Lam, a while ago (see my post) and enjoyed it as both a story and a look at the American South in the late 20th century. Blanche is in domestic service.  At first she had only worked for white women, but, it seems in her time in NY and Boston she also worked for Black professionals.  The point here, I felt, was that there there are people in a variety of social strata of every color.

Blanche’s sister died, leaving her custody of two children.  She used some hush money to get them into good schools. But she also strives to make them understand education and opportunity doesn’t make you a better person than someone who has not been afforded the same possibilities.;/ .  In A lot of Blanche’s work raising the kids is about status, and snobbery.  It reflects on how bigotry begins early in life.  Blanche is a woman with very dark skin and she’s been teased or heard about it her whole life.

The biggest part of this book, aside from the mystery and the off-the-page murder, is that people of color judge by color as well. Her kids are visiting with school friends over the summer at a very posh, all-black resort in Maine.  In it’s past, only light-skinned blacks were allowed, but even now, when that ban has been lifted you know who’s on the top of the pecking order.  There is one young couple, the young man being part of the community of summer people with their own cabin. His parents, both light, don’t like the match because the woman is very dark-skinned.

When I heard about this bigotry within the black community, I thought it was a ridiculous way to behave.  What would make a light skinned person better than a dark-skinned person?  Of course, it has to do with people everywhere treating light-skinned people better in the streets, at work and anywhere. It is an obvious metaphor for the entire society, but it’s also a welcome and effective wake-up-call for everyone of every color. 

The mystery sleuthing was hard to follow, which made it feel a little boring to me.  Everyone hated the woman who was murdered except her husband. It could have been anyone and everyone. And this resort society has its own social ladder but it is missing all but the top rungs.  The town also contains enough skeletons to populate a catacomb.

In the end, Blanche feels a little used, and physically abused, but has learned something, and as an innately intelligent woman always counts that as the best thing.

The narration is like your favorite story-time librarian reading aloud.  It is not unpleasant and different than the trend toward “narracting.” I rather liked the way she read and her cadence.

In short, I like this series.  Blanche is a wonderful character, smart, comfortable in her own body, and knowing what she does to make a living is an honest job requiring skills and knowledge and she is comfortable with that too.  The exploration of race is important and this makes the bitter pill of waking up to the issue of Race in America a little easier to digest.


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