cover image Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem

Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem

Gary Phillips. Polis, $27.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-951709-35-8

Launching a genre-mashing adventure series set in the 1920s, Phillips (The Movie Makers) drops a historical Black explorer who was part of Robert Peary’s Arctic expeditions into a pulpy battle with ambitious gangsters and sinister cabalists. Matthew Henson was the first man to set foot on the North Pole, but his race kept him from getting the recognition he deserved. Now he’s a freelance bodyguard protecting beautiful Destiny Stevenson from kidnappers hired by mobster Dutch Schultz. Schultz hopes to manipulate Destiny’s father, charismatic Black religious leader Daddy Paradise, and seize control of the thriving Harlem numbers racket. He’s also in cahoots with Fremont Davis, a financier and part of the mysterious Medusa Council. In its quest to rule the world, the Council seeks a mysterious meteorite that Henson brought back from one of his expeditions, hoping to use it to activate a death ray developed by Nikola Tesla. This breathless plot plays out in snappy scenes populated with flashy characters, though many won’t get much play until future installments. The result is a tropey and diverting adventure, distinguished by its Jazz Age Harlem setting and unflinching depiction of 1920s race relations. (Nov.)