Blue Avenue

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Blue AvenueWritten by Michael Wiley — Twenty five summers ago, in Jacksonville Florida, William ‘BB’ Byrd had an intense and destructive affair with the young black girl Belinda Mabry. They parted in acrimony, and Byrd has not seen her since. Until the morning he is summoned by an old school friend, Detective Daniel Turner, to identify a woman’s body, trussed up with a clothes line and clear plastic. There, in a garbage strewn alley, Byrd renews his acquaintance with a very dead Belinda Mabry. It seems that she had prospered, marrying a wealthy businessman, and so Turner and Byrd are surprised she has been killed and disposed of in an identical way to two local prostitutes.

Byrd and his friend and sometime mentor, Charles, pay a visit to Belinda’s home, and meet her brother Bobby – who causes Byrd to recall the anguished events of a quarter century earlier. He also meets a young man called Terrence, who claims to be Belinda’s son. The more stones Byrd removes from the strange life of Belinda Mabry, the more dark and nasty secrets scuttle around as they are exposed to the light. Like the fact that Belinda is connected to several well-placed local politicians. Like the fact that she participated willingly in some very special parties in Jamaica. Like the fact that at one of these parties the teenage daughter of a Jamaican politician was raped and suffocated.

Not least of Byrd’s problems is the real identity of Terrence, and how his presence may threaten the already fragile relationship between Byrd and his family. The body count continues to rise, as Byrd blunders into past events and present danger. We are left with the notion that he might be a good man, but his life is shot through with dark shadows cast by rough sex, brutality and a casual disregard for his family. Twenty five years ago, his future happiness was compromised by his brief and turbulent relationship with Belinda. She is no more but, both dead and alive, she refuses to let go.

For about three quarters of the book, it is a grimly compelling read, and the mysterious character of Charles in particular draws us into the plot. Charles is an elemental, pure and simple. In the author’s own words, he fixes what needs fixing and breaks what needs breaking. We seem to get nearer and nearer to the true identity of Belinda’s killer, but every time the mask is snatched off, it reveals a blank face. Now for the first oddity. The book is billed as ‘A Daniel Turner Thriller’, and is probably the first of a planned series. The strange things is that Turner plays very little part in the action, being wrong as often as he is right, and even seems to be implicated in the crime. Byrd may not be the most admirable of characters, but he dominates the story, and we hear the entire narrative in his voice.

The second oddity is that in the final section of the book, both the action and the plot spiral out of control, to the extent that it had me re-reading pages to see if I was missing something, or had failed to draw the correct inference from a conversation or a sequence of events. It is difficult to write about this without spoiling it for future readers, but I put the book down with more questions than answers. Was it just me being thick? Were we intentionally drawn towards the paranormal at the end? For the most part this was a gripping and unflinching account of obsession, perversion and violent deeds, but I found the end unsettling and unsatisfactory.

Severn House

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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