This debut novel does not hold any punches. THE ARRANGEMENT, by M. Ravenel introduces us to Tootsie Carter. Being a female Private Investigator in 1970’s NYC must have been tough. It is a good thing that Tootsie Carter is much, much tougher.
As we all know, novels transport us. Sometimes that is through space and sometimes that is through time. THE ARRANGEMENT does both effortlessly.
You may not remember the 1970s because you enjoyed them too much (ahem) or maybe what you do know about the 70’s is limited to what you have seen on TV and in movies. I think it is only fair that I warn you that if you are expecting the sort of blaxploitation that made up that cinematic era then you should probably look elsewhere.
However, reverence for the era is there! Along with the mention of some cool classic cars, 70’s slang that doesn’t feel out of place and a taste of things that harkens us to a time when the world was different (like smoking on buses… which made me scream, oh the illegality).
On one hand I would readily say that almost all readers will love Tootsie. On the other hand I would say that she is less like a Tootsie roll and more like a Sour Patch Kid. Yes, you are gonna love her but you will not soon forget that she isn’t the sugar that you’ve been stirring into your coffee.
Tootsie is sent a new client, Gregory Miles, who has a beautiful wife who has disappeared without even leaving the classic “Dear John” letter. Can you imagine being ghosted by your spouse who is too callous to even send a text telling you to get lost? Anyone would be worried. Even still Gregory is unable to mask his surprise at seeing that Tootsie is a woman running her own firm.
In the 70s there was a marked sentiment that women could not be trusted with the work of policing or investigating. This was especially true for black women. Tootsie appears as a much needed trailblazer in a world in which she would probably not be considered for the bulk of investigative work that could go to a “capable man” instead.
Tootsie does not give Gregory the cold shoulder, instead she agrees to find his wife. And she does this because she loves her chosen profession and unlike me is not just curious to see if Gregory was flat out lying when he said that his wife could give Pam Grier a run for her money.
This takes us on an adventurous quest through Brooklyn and Queens. We find ourselves immersed in the world of professional boxing where careers are not the only thing at stake, lives are too. Tootsie is not a part of the boxing world but she refuses to fold when doors are closed in her face. She is smart enough to use her head, rather than her hands, to knock those doors down.
The world of sports, while awe inspiring, often has a treacherous undercurrent. Tootsie does not mind going up against the type of guys who wouldn’t think twice about bopping her on the head and dragging her off to the New Jersey Pinelands. It is no secret that I absolutely stan for a resourceful sleuth and I did not have a single moment in which I gave a mean side-eye to a choice she made. She thinks quickly on her feet and is able to put things together which helps to move the investigative aspect of the plot along smoothly. But Tootsie will not hesitate to use her .38 handgun either, and who could blame her?
In her travels she is gregarious enough to chat it up with a rough and tumble taxi drivers who helps her to better understand the world of boxing. When she needs help she does not hesitate to engage her friends on everything from stakeouts to using their businesses for a hideout. She even gets a Diner waitress to reveal key information. Tootsie may work alone, but she is no Lone Ranger.
Another thing I liked about Tootsie is that she is a character who accepts herself. From wearing whatever clothes she chooses (denim bell bottoms, steel toe boots and a trench coat) to choosing to take her time with a potential love interest. She is unafraid to change who she is or conform to the gender norms of her time.
I would be remiss if I did not add that Ravenel wove together some of the most well-crafted action scenes that I have had the pleasure of reading. Tootsie Carter’s premiere is short and sweet and left me searching for book two by the time I turned to the last page.
So, put your dukes up and set aside whatever else you have on your plate this weekend and check out this hard-boiled addition to the Black Crime Fiction catalog.
Many thanks to M. Ravenel for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for review.