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I was in the Chicago area, waiting for a friend at a Borders bookstore in Oak Park. I was perusing the African American interest section, and trying not to be riled up by the fact that the stores find it so convenient to segregate our writing, even if some of us seem to prefer it that way. (Personally, I read everything, so I am annoyed that I have to walk to another section of the bookstore in order to find an African American author. A topic for another day, I guess.) But the selection was pretty impressive, with so many books that I had never seen before! And then I saw one that I knew I just had to buy. A mass market paperback, but I took a chance. Oh, I could not wait to rave about this book!

PLAIN BROWN WRAPPER is a mystery novel starring Alexa Powell, a reporter at a Los Angeles newspaper. When a friend and fellow member of the National Association of Black Journalists was murdered shortly before he was scheduled to receive a prestigious award at an Association banquet, everyone is wondering "whodunnit." Who would want to murder Everret Carson? It turns out that a lot of people have motive. So Alex Powell and her friend Paul Butler, a reporter at a paper in Washington, D.C., travel across the country for a few days, interviewing several important and colorful colleagues in the publishing industry would might know something about who killed Everret Carson. Along the way, they encouter surprise, dead ends, a bit of danger, and, of course, a bit of romance.

I don't know about you, but I practically dance jump and sing when I find a good book by a black author. I mean a book that isn't trying to hard to be black or ghetto or angry or paranoid. And this novel was a really, really a pleasant find. The writing is intelligent, clear, and witty. The characters are funny and smart and realistic. The characters simply are black, so they don't have to demonstrate that to the reader by using cliches or ragged grammar. How delightful and refreshing is that? Even better, the storyline is well-developed. And no matter how I tried, I was unable to guess who the culprit was until the end of the novel, which is a good thing with a mystery novel.

I had never even heard of this novel before, but the endorsement of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on the back of the book told me that I should give it a try. (Gates -- are the author and Mr. Gates related?) And I have heard the author, Karen Grigsby Gates, on NPR several times-- she is an excellent reporter, like Alex Powell. This is an excellent book for travel or a vacation, and I think that even readers who don't normally read a lot of mystery novels will really enjoy this novel. In the meantime, I'm headed back to that bookstore in Oak Park!

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