4 out of 4 stars
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Practice the Jealous Arts by Delia C. Pitts consists of two short novellas. Each novella follows Rook and Brina, members of the Ross Agency security firm. While their romantic relationship isn't the focus of either story, it does see some effective development as time goes on. The first novella is a spin on a rather traditional murder mystery plot; Rook must solve a string of murders that revolve around Harlem Select, an elite private school. In the second novella, Rook and Brina are hired as security for a reclusive shoemaker and his daughters.
Pitts brings a new and refreshing voice to the murder mystery genre. All of her plot elements play out in the dramatic pseudo-realism so common to the noir genre, but the characters are very nuanced and never feel like caricatures. Her descriptions straddle the line between poetic and prosaic with ease, painting mental pictures without being overly verbose. The first novella takes place in an urban environment, while the second takes place in a rural countryside. Both settings feel like a natural part of the story, and it's clear that Pitts is very comfortable writing about each environment.
While the main character is a man, the female characters are written like actual women, rather than props to further their male counterparts' stories. I realized after finishing the book that, with one minor exception, I had no idea what the women's breasts looked like! That practically never happens with stories written by male authors. Pitts also does a great job writing a variety of African American characters, which only makes sense, as she is a woman of color herself.
While there wasn't anything I personally found to dislike in either story, the topics Pitts covered are extremely dark. The stories explore two inventive ways that jealousy can cause someone's death. In order to give her characters reasonable motives for going to this extreme, the book deals with heavy subjects that range from adultery to abuse. While Rook's actions are sympathetic, they very often fall into a moral gray area. This book is absolutely not for people who are sensitive to these topics or who prefer mysteries that are resolved tidily after the culprit is found.
I would absolutely recommend this book to any fans of the murder mystery genre who aren't put off by the factors I listed above. It's also a great book to pick up if you want to support stories by African American or female authors. The writing style is unique, the characters are interesting and varied, and the mysteries themselves are very well-executed, with more focus on moral quandaries than simply piecing together clues. For these reasons, I rate Practice the Jealous Arts 4 out of 4 stars.
Practice the Jealous Arts
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