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by K. J. A. Wishnia
Point Blank, May 2004
208 pages
ISBN: 1930997647

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Filomena Buscarsela is a cop in New York City. This might seem like an unlikely career choice for a woman from a very rural mountain village in Ecuador, a woman whose brother was killed by government agents, a woman with a strong awareness that the law and justice are seldom, if ever, truly in alignment. She's a Latina cop in a system that is just beginning to address seriously the long-standing prejudices against minorities on the job.

Buscarsela's partner, "Bernie, a beef-brained cabeza de chorlito so cerebrally challenged he couldn't pick his own nose without the aid of an instruction manual and a detailed map" are called to the scene of what is reported to be a toxic leak at a food stamp center, with over a dozen victims. The food stamp center is next door to Lilliflex factory, which makes insecticides. One of the victims, the dead one, is an artist who has been railing against the ubiquitous "them" poisoning the environment.

While Lilliflex apologizes for the 'accident', Buscarsela is not convinced; the autopsy reveals that if Wilson McCullough hadn't died at the food stamp center, the levels of tetraethyl lead in his system would have killed him fairly soon anyway. And those levels were way too high for it to be an accident.

Of course, while Buscarsela is working the McCullough case, she has other cases. The rape of a Columbian woman by her landlord. The drug-bust she was dealing with when the food stamp thing happened. The Federal case involving illegal immigrants which she has been assigned to, for reasons which make sense at the time, although her role in that case is very difficult for her. One of the ambitions which drive Buscarsela is her strong desire to get out of her current assignment and into the Detective Bureau. She will do almost anything to further that goal.

Buscarsela catches some bad breaks, makes her own luck a few times, and is not where she wants to be at the end of 23 SHADES OF BLACK. It all makes sense, and I lost no respect for her as a character in the process. I didn't always agree with her decisions, but Wishnia gives us enough of Filomena to know why she does what she does, or at least why she thinks she does what she does -- a fine distinction.

23 SHADES OF BLACK is the first in the Filomena Buscarsela series; it is a very strong beginning, with a lot of potential. If gritty, ultra-hip urban lifestyles don't do it for you, then read something else. If you like police procedurals, realistic ones with accurate portrayals of the many gray areas in urban police work, then Wishnia writes for you. I would not want to live in Buscarsela's part of the world; Wishnia makes it that real.

Reviewed by P. J. Coldren, April 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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