The case starts out close to home: Daniel Kirkland never arrived at Yale for the spring semester. Daniel's mother Grace, a friend of Smokey Dalton's and his son Jimmy's beloved teacher, sacrificed everything to get Daniel into one of the country’s most prestigious schools. What at first seems like a missing persons case becomes something bigger, as Smokey delves into the heart of the anti-war movement.
He goes from the storied halls of Yale University to the slums outside New Haven to Harlem as he searches for Daniel. All the while Smokey hears rumors he doesn't like, from violent attacks to talk of bombs. Gradually he realizes that he has stumbled into America’s second war of the decade: the war at home.
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VERY RUGGED - THE WORST OF THE BLACK PANTHERS
This rugged, deep backstory of the violent reaction to the Vietnam WAr, and to racial injustice by both the Panthers and others is why I personally have to take a break between novels.
I've come to really admire the values, tenacity and decision making process of the hero, Smokey Dalton, aka Bill Grimshaw, who saved a young boy, Jimmy, from the FBI after witnessing the killing of MLK Jr.. Jimmy had found the nearest cop to give the officer his eyewitness account, one that did not gel with the reported account, as an act of citizenship and courage, but was about to be hustled away, maybe even out of existence , when Smokey got the two of them out of the city, out of the state, and to a new existence and home in Chicago; thus the name change.
Jimmy and he are actually good for one another, even if Smokey doesn't quite know it yet. In this volume, it is summertime. Jimmy's special teacher, paid by several black parents to deliver the education promised but not given by the school system, is an upright, middle aged, admirable and loving person, who herself has a brilliant son, gone off to a prestigious college at Yale, doing well for his first year. But she hasn't heard from him in several months, and is worried. She is just managing on her budget, and cannot afford the then expensive phone calls- remember this is the late 1960's and cell phones are only used by the military, if in existence even then- so not hearing from him is worrisome, but not too bad. However, knowing Smoke's an investigator, she does ask him if they can work something out financially for him to check up on
the boy, Daniel Kirkland. They work out a trade; Smokey decides to make it as interesting as he can for Jimmy, hiring an older teen friend, Malcolm, as caretaker, when
Smokey gets going on his research.
What I loved is how Kris Nelscott makes the characters so alive, real and consistent. Both Jimmy , Malcom , and Smokey interact in ways that make you know in your gut how
they are facing and dealing with prejudice - that "other" reality - and help each other in
ways that I would call loving without being obsequious or denying their own realities and
core values. This aspect of her storytelling is meaningful to me. It's not a Perry Mason
Thereafter unfolds a tangled, long, and increasingly disturbing search for the missing son of Grace Kirkland, Daniel. It shows his brilliant start, his disappointment at the
mouthed but unembodied ideals at Yale regarding creating leaders, and opportunities
for the black students,a probable triggering event regarding his girlfriend, and then a
trail of increasing desperation, maybe degradation, and descent into the "refuge" of
reactive and deeply angry violence. Daniel is brilliant, so the way he chooses to retaliate
at white injustice is complex and well thought out…..except for the consequences.
I cried at the end when Smokey, who did not get through this search unscathed, had to
give his account to Grace, Daniel's mother. I'm a mother, and although my son didn't
do what Daniel did, it was easy to feel the pain of the love and hope a parent has for a child when their choices are not easy to encompass.
I'm hooked,though. Seeing the unknown, "other" side of the late 60's is a living history
lesson. Van Jones says that the real fault of white folks is their innocence about black
folks' everyday life; we don't know what it's like; or I don't. When I reach the point of
saturated empathy, I'll stop.
- Lanna S. Seuret
I LOVE this entire series.
- Sharon Simpson