Only The Wicked BOOK review [Gary Phillips

Book Reviews
Only The Wicked BOOK review [Gary Phillips
Nov 1, 2000, 03:17

ONLY THE WICKED by Gary Phillips; Write Way Press, 2000

Phillips injects new life into the crowded and somewhat tired subgenre of the LA Private Eye novel. His Ivan Monk novels have a refreshing sense of urgency and a respect for the city's social history. Indeed, Phillips writes about working class people and shows us parts of the city, the poor black and latino neighborhoods of South Central and East LA, that are seldom portrayed so vividly in literature.

The fourth in the series, Only the Wicked, opens in The Abyssinia Barber Shop and Shine Parlor in Watts as a group of old timers and regulars, including Monk, are hanging around shooting the shit and listening to the radio. As a program on the historic Negro Baseball League comes on the air, an old man named Spears quietly drops dead of an apparent heart attack in the corner. We soon find that Spears himself played ball for the league, along with Monk's cousin, Kennesaw Riles. Riles, who had been shunned by the family 25 years earlier after his testimony put a controversial Southern political figure in prison, soon ends up murdered while Monk is looking into Spears's death. As Monk investigates these deaths, his mother is attacked and the trail leads him back to the Deep South, where he comes up against the remaining members of an old racist group called The Southern Citizens League.

Throughout this complex and finely-crafted tome, we hear the ghostly refrain of a lost Charlie Patton song, “Killin' Blues,” the lyrics of which become more and more important as the case progresses. Yes, you must read this.

-Patrick Millikin

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