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Pamela Samuels Young – Murder On The Down Low

Book Cover

If you aim high while staying low, there may be someone in the middle waiting for you to fall.

Publisher: Goldman House
Pages: 369
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-9815627-0-4
First Published: 2008
Date Reviewed: 10th November 2010
Rating: 4/5

Successful African-American men are being killed in the city and at first it seems that they are linked only by their wealth and status; but as lawyer Vernetta and her friends begin to discover there may be a well-kept secret that binds the men together. And for the women living with the men, the cost can sometimes be immense.

I’ve no qualms about saying that except for a brief foray, at age twelve and of only a few pages, I’m clueless when it comes to crime fiction. The furthest I’ve ever come is Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart Quartet, and those are more about the mystery and suspense than the crime. So in the case of this book I’ve little to compare it to and thus my opinions may not be sound, but they are true, and this book has confirmed something I already knew – reading about law firms can be incredibly interesting.

Samuels Young is extremely bold to have broached the subject she does because if you become angry at what seems to be the message at any given time, and stop reading it, you could possibly go away with a bad impression that isn’t warranted. It takes some time for all of the moral teachings to be discussed and I don’t think it would be spoiling the book to say that Samuels Young is not condemning homosexuality. The subject is viewed from many different angles and she allows each their own say, effectively providing an unbiased account of not just sexuality but modern lifestyle as a whole.

If you flick through this book before reading you may be shocked by the number of chapters, which runs over 100. But this is just part of the overall good structure of the book. Rarely are chapters more than three pages long and this means that the story is constantly moving back and forth between different characters and situations. The narrative is easy to fly through because although it may not be a thriller, the business of crime solving has been written to be fascinating and the constant changes in scenery mean there is never a dull moment. The shortness of chapters adds to this. The book may be as long as your average favourite, but the writing style makes it a much quicker read, even if you’re not devoting many hours per sitting.

Samuels Young has brought her own working knowledge of the world of the attorney to the table, and it shows. There is so much detail here that it is easy to become engrossed, but she always includes enough information about the life of her characters away from their jobs so that the book never becomes bogged down. In addition she relies little on law jargon making this an ideal candidate for someone wanting to read a law novel while knowing nothing about the subject.

“You think gynaecologists ever get tired of staring between a woman’s legs?” He inspected J.C.’s exposed thigh through the slit in her skirt.
“I don’t know, Gerald. You ever get tired of being such an asshole?”

There are quite a few characters in the book, and while the reader is given a bit of their background, again Samuels Young doesn’t overdo it, while it must be said that this is the third book to feature Vernetta and her friends so maybe that’s why (I’ve not read the others). The plot is in the driver’s seat so that although the characters are interesting they aren’t the reason you turn the pages. The only thing that is perhaps dispiriting here is Samuels Young’s approach to explaining a character’s personality by detailing their food and drink choices. Reading it, it feels as though you should be gaining something from it, but there isn’t anything to be had.

The other characters are great, and I’d put a spotlight on all of them, but it’s Special who runs the show for being the catalyst for so many reasons. She isn’t actually given more space in the book than the rest, but her dealings are so completely different to them and her manner too that it’s likely her you’ll remember most. The boyfriends are also great and easy to imagine. While they might not intentionally be humorous their place in the story, firmly outside lawyer proceedings, means that they bring a certain element of enjoyment to the book that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. Where the women are naturally busy and uptight because of the lawsuits, the men are laid back and the reason you get to see the other sides of the ladies. They are a very good plot device.

In lure of the accessibility of the book regarding law, it might also be useful to note that this book is fully accessible as a whole. People unfamiliar with African-American slang should find no problems when reading this book.

Having read Murder On The Down Low I can see why Samuels Young wished to tap into a community that isn’t being included in the genre she loves. You see so many movies where solving a crime involves the black community but very rarely does the plot allow for the characters to be more than two-dimensional except for the occasional main character who is the one to lead the investigation into the neighbourhood. Samuels Young presents the community as an interesting backdrop to a story, the people fully included. And she shows that when it comes down to it the differences that come from culture aren’t big and thus it’s a pity that there isn’t more fiction like the work she produces.

He tried to smile, but she could tell his lips weren’t used to moving in that direction.

If you can solve the mystery I congratulate you, because it’s been well hidden. Samuels Young never invites you to guess and interestingly, although you may want to, there is never the feeling that you should. These people are more than capable of solving it while you make your way through the pages.

Murder On The Down Low makes a field of shells from a single bullet and weaves a mile from a few yards. It may not be worth the time Special puts into it, but it’s worth yours.

I received this book for review from the author thanks to Pump Up Your Book.

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