BY: LORETTA MOORE
A sensational murder trial brings a young African American attorney, Kevin Johnson to Briarton, Connecticut to represent a black drug dealer accused of murdering a Caucasian socialite, Charlotte Knowles. Kevin does his best to defend his client, even though he knows the real reason his two white law partners have given him this high-profile case is that he’s black and so is the client. Even though he’s the “token-minority” partner, Kevin is still determined to do the best job he can. But is his client telling him the truth? And if he didn’t kill Charlotte Knowles, who did?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: The Color of Murder by Loretta Moore is a novella revolving around Kevin Johnson, a black attorney, who is what Moore calls “the token black man” at a prestigious East Coast law firm. Although Kevin’s white partners give him some good cases, it does not slip Kevin’s notice that all of his clients so far have been black.
When Kevin is handed the case of a black drug dealer accused of murdering a wealthy, white, socialite, Kevin wants to believe his client is innocent. Although the reader knows from the beginning who the killer is, the plot revolves around how Kevin finds out in order to save his client.
The story is intriguing and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep it interesting. For a debut novel, The Color of Murder is a very good effort.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: While I agree with Taylor that The Color of Murder by Loretta Moore is a good debut novella, I was more intrigued by the character development than I was by the plot revolving around the murder of the rich, old white woman. I immediately felt a lot of empathy for Kevin. Not only is he discriminated against by his white law partners (although you really don’t see much of that), but Kevin also has to contend with his depression from his grief at the recent death of his wife as he struggles to raise his young son alone.
Moore uses a lot of flashbacks in her book, which I found to be an interesting and appealing way to let us have more information about the various characters. I liked the idealistic young police detective, the cynical private detective, and even the scared, desperate drug dealer wrongly accused of murder. And throughout the story, I felt a subtle but definite undercurrent of social unrest, crying out against the tendency of society to look at skin color and financial position to determine a person’s worth, rather than looking at the character of the person in question. It’s something we all need to be aware of. All in all, I quite enjoyed the book.
Oh shit! What the hell?” Gwendolyn Knowles muttered disgustedly when the traffic control cop waved for her to turn left and detour into the Briarton, Connecticut, downtown area. Coming upon one detour sign after another, she’d lost her way and ended up in a seedy, predominantly black section of town.
Gwen’s eyes scanned the neighborhood, searching for a street to take her out of that scary place when she saw something that caught her attention—a familiar shadowy figure coming out of a house.
“Is that who I think it is? It can’t be! Can it? Yes, it is. That’s Tim!”
Timothy Knowles was talking to a young black man in front of a dilapidated building. The black man handed over a small envelope in exchange for the wad of cash Tim passed him. Then the two did a high five.
“What’s with Cousin Tim and the black guy?” Gwen asked herself. “Hmmm, a drug buy. What else could it be?” She turned onto an adjoining road. “We just might have something here. This is valuable information, indeed. I wonder just how much Dear Timothy would pay to keep this quiet.”
Two weeks later:
“Gwen, oh, Gwen, I love you, Gwen. Oh Gwen, Gwen!”
Gwen tried to stifle her yawn as her husband Brian Knowles screamed out his pleasure and bounced up and down on her.
She didn’t think he’d notice her faking if she called out his name between gasps and sighs. Meanwhile another matter occupied her thoughts at this dark hour of the night.
She had to get rid of her mother-in-law. The woman was driving her crazy, always interfering in their lives. There was no doubt about it. Charlotte had to die. But how?
Maybe I could hire someone to play the part of a city utility worker or meter reader. He could arrive when she was taking her afternoon nap and hook up some sort of poisonous gas to her tank. Even if she heard something going on she’d think nothing of it. And if she was asleep, she wouldn’t be aware of anything before she died.
But contacting a “hit man” wouldn’t be easy. And adding to the difficulty would be the task of finding someone to pull together all of the things needed for such a complicated “hit.” And what about Charlotte’s housekeeper, Lizzie? The old bat was always there, snooping and spying.
Bad idea, dammit! Gwen concluded angrily. Perhaps, she could slip arsenic or cyanide in her mother-in-law’s tea. No, that might be traced back to me. Wait a minute! I know just the person to handle this. He obviously has the right connections among his druggie friends, and he can hardly refuse me. Yes!
When Brian finally finished, Gwen rolled out from under him. “After that, my darling, I’m dying for a drink of water,” she said, rushing downstairs to the kitchen. Then she pulled out her cell phone and dialed.
Tim answered his phone with a frown. Who would be calling him this time of night? “Hello.”
“Tim, Gwen here. Listen druggie, I saw you the week before last. I know what you’re up to.”
A ball of ice fisted in Tim’s stomach. “What do you mean? You didn’t see me doing anything!”
“Who’s that black guy I saw you high-fiving? You gave him cash, and he gave you drugs. Shame, shame, shame! Things like that will spoil the Knowles reputation. I think you’re in deep doo-doo.”
Tim listened nervously but said nothing.
Gwen snorted and continued. “We don’t want the world to know that Timothy Knowles is a druggie, now do we?”
“What do you want Gwen? What will it take to ensure your silence?”
“Why, Tim, how can you say that? You know I would never do anything to hurt you,” she purred. “But now that you mention it, I do have one itsy-bitsy little job I’d like you to take care of…”
The housekeeper, sixty-year-old Lizzie Miller, had screamed in horror on finding her boss on the kitchen floor when she came back from her day off. Her reddened face was awash with tears and she had been inconsolable when Briarton police, detectives, and the coroner arrived, soon after her frantic call. Head detective, fifty-nine-year-old Sergeant John Bowers started the investigation by questioning her son who had come rushing over to the mansion in response to a frantic call from Lizzie.
Brian Knowles, looking as though suffering from horrendous grief, eased down into the chair in living room. “Some valuables are missing,” he told the detectives. “A few antiques, a couple of pieces of jewelry…small, portable items. But nothing major. Here,” he said, handing over a scribbled list.
John looked at the paper and scratched his chin. “Don’t seem like somebody broke in.” He turned to the police officers accompanying him “’Nother thing. I noticed when the housekeeper let us in is that the victim’s tabby shot across the door and raced upstairs. Go ask the woman where the cat was when she arrived on the scene this morning.”
One of the officers ran out. A few minutes later he was back. “She says, the cat—Ferdinand—was snuggling beside the body as he always did, sleeping with the decedent.”
John nodded. “All put together, I’d say the killer knew the housekeeper was off yesterday, and he knew the victim well enough that both she and her cat were comfortable with whoever came here last night. In fact, I think—”
A shout from the kitchen cut him off. As John started in that direction, an officer came running to meet him. “Look what I found,” he said, holding up an afro comb. “It was lodged between a chair leg and the wall.”
“An afro comb?” John turned back to Brian. “Did you mother socialize with any African-Americans?”
Brian looked stunned at the question. “You’ve got to be kidding!”
Ten days later:
The murder was over and done with, and it had gone just as Tim and Gwen had expected. The afro comb Tim had gotten from the drug dealer’s bedroom, when he pretended he needed to use the bathroom, had been planted in his aunt’s kitchen. The drug dealer Matthew Cook had been arrested and everything was going according to plan.
However, Tim couldn’t figure out what to do with the valuables he’d taken to make it look like a robbery. He’d thought about burying them, but it was freezing cold and snow had piled up, almost a foot deep in some areas.
He couldn’t leave the items at his house. Someone might see them and get suspicious. There had to be someplace he could dispose of them that wouldn’t lead back to him. He’d just take a drive and find it, he decided as he grabbed the sack from its hiding place in the back of his closet.
His mind was whirling as he got into his car and quickly pulled off. As he was entering the main highway it occurred to him that the woods would be a good place to toss the sack of valuables. He turned off the main road and onto a country lane leading into the hills. Coming upon a small bridge, he stopped and parked at the end of it. He looked around but the road was deserted. There wasn’t another soul in sight.
Tim grabbed the sack off the seat of the car and got out. He thought about walking to the center of the bridge, directly above the stream, but decided against it because he feared getting too far from his car. He didn’t want to be standing out in the open if someone should come by before he finished his task.
Walking over to the wooden rail, he leaned out as far as he could, trying to drop the sack into the water below. But the end of the bridge was too far from the stream and the angle was off. The sack landed on the snowy bank just short of the river.
He saw headlights and ran back to his car, pulling away quickly before the on-coming driver had a chance to get a good look at him or his vehicle. God, I hope whoever it is won’t be able to identify me!