Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Blanche on the Lam

Blanche on the LamBlanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Blanche White (yes, that's really her name) has written one too many bad checks, thanks to meager wages not promptly paid, and she's facing jail time. Panic leads her to sneak out of the courthouse during a commotion and flee, ending up bluffing her way into a job for clients she'd had to cancel on thanks to the court appearance. Luckily for Blanche, the family soon heads to their summer home in another town, providing her a place to hide out while she figures out her next steps. Her employers have dangerous secrets of their own, however, and Blanche must pry into them if she is to stay alive.

I finished reading this nearly two months ago, but it's taken me a while to try and process what I think of it. I did enjoy reading it, although it was not what I was expecting, based on the blurb. For one thing, it's set in the present day (or, well, the present day of the early 1990s when it was written), but I was terribly confused at first because it felt like something out of the 1950s or 1960s. Are there really still African American maids and gardeners and other domestic workers in North Carolina who are treated like second-class citizens or worse? I suppose there might be, given all the recent racial tensions and violence in the news lately (currently the rioting in Baltimore).

It's truly a different world from the one I know. Although we can now finally afford to pay someone to come and clean our house every couple of weeks, and we just hired a landscaping service to take care of our yard because we simply can't keep up with it, we pay them well, and I cannot fathom treating any of the people doing the work with anything less than the utmost respect and deep gratitude for the time and energy they are saving us. I don't know anyone at all who has ever had "hired help" in the manner depicted in this book, and even if anyone had, no one I know would ever treat people so badly. It's an alien concept--just as much as if this were a sci-fi novel instead of a contemporary mystery.

The sad thing is, Blanche has experienced such a long history and culture of racial bigotry and inequality, that it--understandably, if unpleasantly--colors her perspective on everything. She is intelligent, even when she doesn't make the wisest choices. She loves her adopted children, and I'd love to eat her cooking, but she has a huge chip on her shoulder that keeps her from fully bonding with Mumsfield, a mentally slow sweetheart of a young man, just because he's white and related to her employers. Keeping her distance is a defense mechanism, and her bitterness and cynicism made for difficult reading at times. It was an interesting book, and I am curious to know what the next one in the series is like.

For readers' advisors: character and setting doorways. Some crude language and, strangely enough, a couple of descriptions of Blanche adjusting her underwear when it had ridden up.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the free ebook copy I received in exchange for my honest review.

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