How To Greet Strangers
Joyce Thompson's new mystery novel "How To Greet Strangers" brings us one of the most original and intriguing characters introduced into the genre in some time.
Archer Barron works as a night watchman at a university in California even though he is a law school graduate and just a bar exam away from becoming an attorney. Archer is funny, gorgeous, ripped and has skin that he describes as "light honey brown." Archer is also HIV+, volunteers at a clinic, does drag and has recently distanced himself from the Santeria religion/cult.
Archer doesn't just do drag. He has created multiple personas each with her own name, style and backstories. For instance one of his favorite 'ladies' is Elizabeth whom Archer describes as an upper middle-class bitch who shops at all the best stores and volunteers for all the best causes. Elizabeth sports a dishwater blonde shoulder length bob and gravitates to tailored woolens and cashmere sweaters in a muted palette.
Archer's contented life is shaken up when he receives a visit from Rosario, one of his god-sisters (the title given to his fellow cult members.) Rosario and her husband Carlos' son has died and Carlos has been arrested for negligent homicide. Their son had brain cancer and instead of consenting to surgery and chemo, Rosario and Carlos followed the advice of their godmother (the leader of their Santeria house) to undergo a Santeria ritual. The boy died.
Archer calls an attorney friend (Terry) to assist. Terry, who shares significant baggage with Archer, agrees to work for Carlos on a pro bono basis but enlists Archer's help in the investigation. However, before Archer can begin to investigate, his former Santeria godmother is found bludgeoned and decapitated. Along with all his former god-brothers and god-sisters, Archer is questioned regarding his godmother's murder by Detective Dixon. After clearing Archer of the crime, Dixon enlists Archer's aid to re-integrate himself into the Santeria house to find any clues.
Archer Barron: gorgeous, black, positive, drag crime fighter!
As gambalayed as the above sounds, "How To Greet Strangers" is a credible, sometimes incredible read. Thompson writes with confidence and authority capturing the rhythm, cadence, language, attitude and swagger of a positive gay male in the 21st century. Thompson expends great energy in describing and explaining the rituals, intricacies and nuances of the Santeria religion including baldly divulging that the godmother was pulling in over $100,000/year running her house/business and attending to her godchildren. But despite Thompson's efforts and a lot of googling the ire, osogbo, ebo, ocha, ebo meta, orishas and dozens of other Santeria words and phrases never become clear.
Notwithstanding a plethora of intriguing characters and a 'behind the curtains' peek at two different worlds, "How To Greet Strangers" boils down to a less than original whodunit. The story structure telegraphs the killer to any fan of the mystery genre and Thompson breaks one of the genre's major commandments.
Forget the story, enjoy meeting Archer and keep your fingers crossed that Thompson brings Archer and his ladies back for more satisfying adventures.
"How To Greet Strangers," published by Let The Press goes on sale Feb. 15, 2013. "How To Greet Strangers" is available on Amazon for $15.00
By Joyce Thompson