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Book Review: South By Southeast by Blair Underwood, Tananarive Due, and Steven Barnes

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This is the fourth installment in the Tennyson Hardwick, NAACP Award Winning Series. From the opening lines the reader knows this is not just another thrilling detective story. The writing is deeper, more introspective and literary. Tennyson Hardwick, despite his past and present careers, is not just another pretty face, not just another Hollywood hard body.

Tennyson Hardwick, for those new to the series, is a one-time gigolo, body guard, accidental detective and now an aspiring actor hoping to get that one big break that will cast him in a serious role instead of character roles he has been offered for just that: his pretty face and hard body.

Tennyson is about to learn the age-old lesson, “Be careful what you wish for. You may just get it.” When offered a lead part by Hollywood darling and heavyweight Academy Award-nominated director/producer Gustavo Escobar’s in his next project, Tennyson jumps at the opportunity. When he finds out it is to be a seemingly lightweight zombie movie, even that doesn’t dampen his spirits. He moves his family–stepdaughter Chela; his father, long retired L.A.P.D. captain Richard Hardwick; and ‘The Captain’s” soon to be wife Marcela–to Miami where the film is to be shot.

But when Chela runs into a friend, Maria, from her past as a teenage prostitute, and decides to explore the South Beach night life with her, things begin to go south. Finding herself drawn to easily into that flame of her previous life, and discovering that she is disappointed in her friend, who was like a big sister to her when she was “in the life,” Chela leaves the party early. But when Maria is found seemingly drowned the next day, Chela is suspicious as her friend was not a swimmer and was truly afraid of the water.

Tennyson, out of love for his daughter, decides to check into the event and not expecting to find anything except a party girl who went for a dip when she was drunk or high or both, discovers that Maria was not the first prostitute found washed up on the Florida beaches in recent months.

South By Southeast by Blair Underwood, Tananarive Due & Steven Barnes 9/18/12

The story here had all the ingredients to fail, but doesn’t. Underwood and company are masters at taking a familiar story and renewing it and wringing every ounce of emotion and worth from it. The plot is what I like to call loosely taut. It is just tight enough where it needs to be and the narration, comfortable. In short, like a good jazz musician, they display mastery of space; sometimes the most important part of a composition is the space between the notes and sometimes the most important things that are written are those things the writers don’t say but leave to the reader to experience.

I repeat myself, but it is so important that the reader understand that I beg forgiveness; the characters are so well-written, even the ‘small’ ones, that you’ll want to take them out for a drink. Every single one of them lives and breathes. They are full of life and conflicting but symbiotic motivations. You’ll even grow to like, or at least understand where the antagonists are coming from. Major achievement, this.

The sense of place is also marvelously present, whether that place is on a movie set; in a make-up artist’s cramp quarters, in the art-deco setting of Miami or a popular ‘only the pretty people get in’ night club; Los Angles (including some prehistorically ‘hot-spots’); or a police interrogation room. Five stars to all of them.

The only fault I found with in the novel–or more precisely, the uncorrected ARC (advanced reviewers copy)–was the author’s a penchant for dwelling too long on an aspect of a character’s past, motivation, or reasoning. I suspect this was to convey to the first-time reader of the series all the important parts that were in the first three books and are of importance to this story.

And the last criticism would be for the more than a little reliance on the deus ex machina in the conclusion.

At first I was critical of the novels length, as after the main action, there were more than a few pages used to end the book. But when I had waded through those, I found that it was nearly a perfect ending, since this is not wholly a thriller, but an exposition on the growth of Tennyson Hardwick as a man and as a marvelous character.

Blair Underwood is is an American television, film, and stage actor and director. He is perhaps best known as headstrong attorney Jonathan Rollins from the NBC legal drama L.A. Law, a role he portrayed for seven years.

Tananarive Due is an American author, born in Tallahassee, Florida, the oldest of three daughters of civil rights activist Patricia Stephens Due and civil rights lawyer John D. Due Jr. Due was working as a journalist and columnist for the Miami Herald when she wrote her first novel, The Between, in 1995 This, like many of her subsequent books, was part of the supernatural genre. Due has also written The Black Rose, historical fiction about Madam C.J. Walker (based in part on research conducted by Alex Haley before his death) and Freedom in the Family, a non-fiction work about the civil rights struggle.

Steven Barnes is an African-American science fiction writer, lecturer, creative consultant, and human performance technician. He has written several episodes of The Outer Limits and Baywatch. He has also written the episode “Brief Candle” for Stargate SG-1 and the Andromeda episode “The Sum of Its Parts” Barnes’s first published piece of fiction, the 1979 novelette “The Locusts”, was written with Larry Niven, and was a Hugo Award nominee. Barnes, a Los Angles High School alum and Communications Art major at Pepperdine University, is also a certified hypnotherapist but his true passion, other than writing, is martial and physical arts. He is a black belt in Kenpo Karate (Aikka style), and Kodokan Judo. But perhaps his biggest accomplishment was in winning the heart of his co-author….the pretty one. He is married to Tananarive Due, luck man.
South by Southeast: A Tennyson Hardwick Novel

  • Paperback: 384 pages Publisher: Atria Books; Original edition (September 18, 2012) Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451650639 ISBN-13: 978-1451650631
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