I’m pretty sure that my mini-review here is not going to do this book justice. It is just that incredible. Carter, a law professor at Yale, is no stranger to publishing. For years he published scholarly works on religion, ethics, and politics that were well-received and hailed. But they were way above my head. Dude is super smart.
So, a few years ago, when he published his first work of fiction, a mystery titled
The Emperor of Ocean Park, I was a little skeptical. I was soon drawn into the world of upper-class African-American society (a community not commonly found in literature) and the Ivy League. It was groundbreaking and thrilling to read. His second mystery,
New England White, added politics to the mix. Historically, the African-American privileged class has been a very insular and close-knit community and these books show just how much, especially when you throw a couple murders in.
In Palace Council, Carter takes this community to the nth degree. Eddie Wesley is an aspiring writer living in 1950’s Harlem, doing odd jobs in order to devote time to his writing, much to the dismay of father who believes that his son should find work more suitable to the son of a preacher with far-reaching connections. Eddie is dating Aurelia, who has her own future to think of. Should she marry Eddie, the creative dreamer or Kevin Garland, from the wealthy Wall Street Garlands. The night that Eddie realizes that he has lost Aurelia to Kevin, he stumbles across the corpse of a white man in Harlem. A few years later, Junie, Eddie’s sister goes missing, and while he is now an acclaimed novelist, he devotes the next 20 years to searching for her. Are these two incidents related? You have no idea.
In his author’s note, Carter states that even though the book starts in 1954 and ends in 1974, it is really about the 1960’s – the most important decade of social change in recent American history. In addition to the African-American society residents of Harlem, historical figures like Joseph Kennedy, Langston Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon appear as characters as well. The settings move from Harlem to Washington, D.C. to Saigon. The story is rich with twists and turns and clues uncovered so masterfully that I sometimes had to re-read a couple passages because they were so ingeniously written. In one example, a character is mentioned who had died about 50 pages before and I didn’t recognize the name and couldn’t remember who he was. But in reading the sentence again I saw that Carter, with just 2 or 3 words, subtly reminds you of the characters importance. Stuff like that really makes an impression on me.
A few posts ago, I stated that Tananarive Due was my favorite author and I still stick by that. But she now has to share the honor with Stephen L. Carter.