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Stormy Weather    by Paula Woods order for
Stormy Weather
by Paula Woods
Order:  USA  Can
One World, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

In the crowded mystery field nowadays, an aspiring author must be very clever to create a sleuth who stands out from the crowd. Some do this by giving their character an interesting career, eg forensic neuropsychology (see Hallie Ephron) or an unusual hobby such as falconry (see Andy Straka). Others work hard on the character herself, her personality and/or her personal life.

Woods has taken the second tack and given us an African-American Los Angeles police officer with the perfect name, Charlotte Justice. The number of cop mysteries, with either male or female leads is huge, but Charlotte Justice is one of the very few African-American females in the field. Although she is a feisty single woman like many of the female cops and PIs, her life is different than most others, and the novels, three to date, have gained well-deserved recognition.

Charlotte comes from an affluent background and grew up in a wealthy African-American section of LA. She is a widow in her 30's, struggling to make her way in a male-dominated police force. The time is the early 1990's, shortly after the travesty of the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots. Charlotte's personal life is richly developed from a loving but interfering family to her new romance after many years of grieving. Readers without intimate knowledge of African American family life will enjoy seeing the similarities and differences. And in general, both in her actions and her language, Charlotte takes a slightly different approach to life than her typical Caucasian cop counterparts.

At the beginning, Charlotte and her partner Gina Cortez, the only other woman in the elite Robbery Homicide Division, are assigned to the death of well-known African-American movie director Maynard Duncan. At first it appears that Duncan has finally succumbed to cancer, but soon tests show that his death has been helped along with a large morphine overdose. When Charlotte and Gina investigate they discover that several family members and friends benefit from Duncan's death.

Along the way, they both must fight against a supervisor who sexually harasses them and comes close to getting them killed when they do not cooperate. Eventually they work their way through a morass of clues and difficulties to find the killer - although the solution has some negative repercussions for their careers. In using Duncan as the victim, Woods is able to provide a fascinating backdrop of African-American lives in the early days of Hollywood. The title itself is a tribute to Lena Horne's famous song as well as to the stormy weather in Charlotte's personal and professional life.

In today's world of 'too many mysteries and not enough time', a new author must do a great job with a first novel to entice readers to return for a second look. Woods has accomplished this with Stormy Weather and I for one will return for her next one, Inner City Blues.

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