Rachel Howzell Hall continues to prove that she can write anything; and that when she does, she will always knock it out of the park. Whether it’s a touching personal essay like “I Don’t Know This Word” (from the Private Investigations anthology) or a hard-hitting short story such as “Down, Girl” (in the Shattering Glass anthology), readers know they are going to be consumed by the experience and come out the other side entertained and educated. Rachel Howzell Hall can write iconic series characters like Lou Norton who appears in the Land of Shadows, Skies of Ash, Trail of Echoes, and City of Saviors; as well as compelling stand-alone crime novels (like They All Fall Down) that pay homage to history, while blazing a path through the community’s unfortunate stronghold on past censure and erasure of minority voices. With her latest work coming next month, Rachel Howzell Hall once again tackles a much beloved sub-genre – the Private Eye novel – in her own inimitable way. And Now She’s Gone blends the procedurals aspects of the Lou Norton series with the psychological bent of They All Fall Down, resulting in one of the strongest books of the year; a novel that will be nearly impossible to forget.
For Grayson Sykes, nothing is black and white and everything is black and white. Even the allusion in her nickname – Gray – places her in that area “between,” a place that could be a destination, but might just as easily be an area of transition from one point to another. So, it is fitting that Grayson is taking on her first big case at Rader Consulting, the private investigation agency she works for. Her assignment is to find Isabel Lincoln at the request of her husband, Dr Ian O’Donnell. Grayson should know better than to expect this search to go smoothly – little in her life has followed the path of least resistance – but there was no way she could have predicted the truth behind this disappearance.
Very little can be said about the plot of And Now She’s Gone because every well-placed and perfectly timed revelation in this serpentine plot feels like a gift to the reader, earned and appreciated in equal measure. The current day search for Isabel is occasionally interrupted by flashbacks which recount a tragic story zeroing in on the cult of toxic masculinity that runs rampant in our society. Gray’s endeavor to find Isabel is described thoroughly and readers get a real sense of what the life of a PI is like. Gray’s closest friends work with her at the firm and form a support team that lends a hand with data-mining, research, and other backup duties. Rachel Howzell Hall throws in some wonderful distractions – in the form of romantic entanglements – that will delight readers even as they confound Grayson.
The strength of this novel lies squarely on the shoulders of Grayson Sykes. Fortunately, she is a one-of-a-kind character that is more than up to the task – charming readers in a way that is not often witnessed. Grayson Sykes is a worthy successor to the lineage of Black female private investigators that includes the likes of Barbara Neely’s Blanche White, Mma Precious Ramotswe from The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, and Dayna Anderson from the books by Kellye Garrett. It is unclear if And Now She’s Gone is the start of a series or not, but even based solely on this one outing, Rachel Howzell Hall has crafted a character that readers will reflect upon fondly for many years to come. Anyone interested in the evolution of crime fiction must read And Now She’s Gone, as this is a novel that brings diversity to the genre without the need to centralize the Black experience as the focal point of the book, while at the same time this book never shies away from its roots. It is a refreshing angle for a suspense novel and one that has been missing/ignored for far too long.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.