Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A NEGRO AND AN OFAY :: Danny Gardner

This review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

Screenwriter Danny Gardner is a professional comedian, but his debut novel, A Negro and an Ofay: The Tales of Elliot Caprice, is no joke. Gardner's powerful themes are infused with just the right humorous undertones, rendering A Negro and an Ofay historical crime fiction at its hardboiled best. 

The tale of Elliot Caprice has been a mixed-bag from the jump. Son of an interracial couple who can pass for white, Elliot was abandoned to his black uncle and taken under the wing of a Jewish loan shark in his hometown of Southville, Illinois. Elliot's shady background and self-doubt combine with his military and Chicago PD service to leave him with a foot on both sides of the line and no safe space to reside.

Returning home in semi-disgrace in 1952, Elliot finds his uncle lying ill in a flophouse and the family farm in foreclosure. Determined to keep the property, Elliot takes a job as a process-server. Given the opportunity for a large payday on the side, Elliot ends up embroiled in the multi-faceted fight over a powerful businessman's estate.

Elliot's story is told from his perspective and is mostly about men--blends of friend, foe, hero and villain--yet women are really at the heart of the matter, beginning with Elliot's mother and what her departure meant for her son. Raw and intimate, violent and intense, Gardner's dialogue buzzes with authenticity, highlighted by Elliot's chameleon-like code-switching. A fast-moving crime novel with a soul, Gardner's coming out party is a dead-bang winner.

STREET SENSE:  A great new addition to the crime fiction family. I'm looking forward to more of Elliot's tales, but especially more of Gardner's kickass women characters.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  Frank had performed the heavy lifting all by himself, moving all the furniture back to its proper place. The last thing he moved was the sofa, which he collapsed upon from exhaustion. His long legs hung off the edges. He wanted to continue working out of gratitude, figured he would only catch a breather, but in seconds, he snored softly. It was a quiet murmur of comfort, his dangling feet not cousin to hands draped across prison bars, but brother to young legs swaying off a porch swing. 

COVER NERD SAYS: The first reason I wanted to read this book was Danny. I wanted to find out what that mind would put on paper. The second reason was the cover of the book. What a beauty. Maybe I'm a sucker for things that look aged and/or from a simpler time (and yet, things are never really simpler and buying used things creeps me out--go figure), but I would have been drawn to this cover in any bookstore in any universe. This is a piece of art I would hang on my wall. A-plus. 

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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