Angela Henry has done it again. Once more, she brings to vibrant life the misadventures of her delightful amateur gumshoe Kendra Clayton. In fact, Henry draws characters so rich that by now, readers are no longer just going to the store or the Internet to get whatever Angela Henry’s newest book happens to be — they are dying to find out what in the world is going on lately with their homegirl Kendra.
And no, you don’t have to be a woman to appreciate Henry’s writing. Far from being yet another rehashed serving of fare best fit for sitting under the hair-dryer while waiting for one’s fingernail polish to dry, this series is made of inventive storytelling, crackling wit and that rarity of rarities in American publishing: an authentic, down-to-earth slice of Black life.
Kendra, for those who have yet to meet her, is a thirty-ish GED instructor at a high school and a hostess at her uncle’s eatery. Reasonably worldly and possessed of common sense, she does her best to mind her own business (at least as much as is possible in the small town of Willow, Ohio) but the fact is, she’s a natural-born nosey bones. Especially when it’s pretty clear somebody has been up to no good. And invariably, someone becomes the victim of foul play, which is when Kendra puts on her detective hat and the roller-coaster ride begins. Generally with Kendra sticking her nose so far into things that there’s every possibility of the culprit deciding that, before Kendra can solve the crime, she indeed will be next to kick the bucket.
First came The Company You Keep, in which Kendra’s friend Bernie is about to kick her no-good boyfriend to the curb when he gets bumped off before she can get the chance. This leaves Bernie as the prime murder-suspect and sets Kendra riding to the rescue, determined to unearth the killer — hopefully without making bad matters worse for Bernie or for herself. Then came Tangled Roots.
When a promising but troubled student of hers looks good for the slaying of a local beautician, Kendra just can’t stand by and do nothing. Before you know it, the lovable sleuth is up to her ears in alligators, figuring how to drain the swamp. To exacerbate it all, if you think Jim Rockford got on Lt. Dennis Becker’s nerves, you haven’t seen a thing. Poor Kendra can’t breathe right to suit Detective Trish Harmon, who would love any excuse to lock her up — be it suspicion of murder, obstruction of justice or just being a pain in the asterisk.
The newest book, released June 1, is Diva’s Last Curtain Call, a brisk jaunt that brings Kendra into the reality of Hollywood’s history of discrimination. When former but still self-impressed superstar Vivianne DeArmond (think Dorothy Dandridge, if she had lived past the age of forty-two) visits the town of Willow to be honored with a sold-out tribute, she instead winds up dead, stabbed to death on her dressing room floor. The prime suspect turns out to be Kendra’s sister (think Kendra, only without the common sense) — a struggling actor cum TV reporter for the fictional “Hollywood Vibe.”
Needless to say, with her bratty, harebrained sister’s life on the line, Kendra is quicker than ever to enter the fray. And just as quickly, she starts turning up more leads than she knows what to do with (seems plenty of folk had reason to off the grand lady). Doesn’t take long either, before Kendra has reason to start looking over her own shoulder.
The Company You Keep, Tangled Roots and Diva’s Last Curtain Call, fluidly written and thoroughly engaging, are tailor-made for translation to the screen and would have you munching and slurping along from beginning to end without so much as a bathroom break. And they’re all under the Kimani/Sepia imprint, a division of Harlequin Books. For more info., the author is at www.angelahenry.com.