Pleasantville by Attica Locke

PleasantvillePleasantville by Attica Locke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s a decent courtroom drama in this book, but it sure takes a while to get to it. Pleasantville is a primarily black neighborhood in Houston. Jay, the lead character, is a successful civil trial lawyer, single parent, and now verging on burnout. A teenage girl goes missing in Pleasantville the day of a mayoral primary race. We soon learn that she was passing out flyers designed to frighten voters away from one candidate and that there were two other girls who went missing in the same general area recently and ended up dead. Eventually, this third girl turns up dead, too.

That’s a good start, but for the next two hundred pages or so we are subjected to a long narrative about the Hathorne family (one mayoral candidate, Axel Hathorne, is the current police chief), background on a huge cast of characters, and voluminous descriptions of what every female character is wearing every time she makes an appearance, how every man holds his cigarette, the political history of the city and community, and the architectural style of every house and the smells coming from every kitchen. I began to wonder if the author was getting paid by the word. There’s no doubt in my mind she was padding a novelette into a full-length novel.

The community of Pleasantville is portrayed in a favorable and believable light. It’s not simply a black ghetto, nor an idealized Father Knows Best middle America with colorless blacks as some clueless whites might envision. The characters, though nearly all black, are diverse – upper, middle, and lower class, ambitious or plodding, devout Christians or not, and so forth. This story is one of those exemplars of political correctness that you feel guilty putting down without finishing it, but I was desperately close to doing so out of boredom when all of sudden, almost exactly two-thirds of the way through, it turned into a cracking good courtroom drama. Neal Hathorne, Axel’s son and campaign manager) is arrested and charged with the most recent murder. The courtroom scenes, especially the witness examination, objections, and judicial rulings were very realistic, much better than the average crime novel. As a lawyer and retired FBI agent, that’s important to me. There’s also some good action in the last third. I won’t say more about the plot so as to avoid spoilers, but rest assured our hero Jay comes through in the end. I would have liked to have rated it higher, but the long slog at the beginning prevents me from doing so.

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