cover image When Death Come Steal

When Death Come Steal

Valerie Wilson Wesley. Putnam Adult, $19.95 (221pp) ISBN 978-0-399-13949-9

In her adult fiction debut, Essence magazine executive editor Wesley introduces a decisive, independent PI and single mother as heroine but sets her in a transparent, formulaic plot. Tamara Hayle, a divorced ex-cop, and her 14-year-old son, Jamal, live in Newark, N.J., not far from Jamal's father, DeWayne, who has three other sons by three different women. Ordinarily, Tamara has no sympathy for DeWayne, but when one of his sons dies of what the cops say is a drug overdose, she agrees to DeWayne's request that she investigate the young man's apartment. She finds a neat room with fresh food in the fridge and extra money carefully stashed away--not the expected residence of a cocaine addict. When another of DeWayne's sons drowns in a bathtub five days later and another is shot soon after that, Tamara becomes terrified for Jamal's safety. Wesley creates a broad, interesting cast, from gentle Jamal to a suave, violent-tempered Jamaican who tries to seduce Tamara, but too little is revealed of the PI herself. The book's strength lies in its portrayal of black family life in dangerous times--future installments of this promised series will have to fill us in on Tamara. Author tour; first serial to Essence. (July)