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Plain Brown Wrapper.

Plain Brown Wrapper by Karen Grigsby Bates Avon Books/HarperCollins, August 2001, $13.00 ISBN 0-380-80890-0

The small "cullud" worlds of black journalists and the Beautiful Black Bourgeoisie (BBB) overlap in amusing and disconcerting ways, both in real life and in this fiction debut by Karen Grigsby Bates. Here's a murder-mystery romp that also offers sharply observed, witty social commentary on the manners and mores, habits, haunts and behavioral subtleties among contemporary BBBs. Bates has written not only for Essence, but also for People, the Los Angeles Times, and National Public Radio. She has coauthored an etiquette book, Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times (Doubleday, 1996). Hence, she is a long-standing member of both the media elite and the BBBs, though I doubt she would ever describe herself that way.

Anyway, self-important cullud folks who determinedly wrap themselves in whatever elite credentials they have acquired or were born with almost never have a sly sense of humor like hers. Or like her protagonist Alex Powell, a newspaper columnist for the Los Angeles Standard turned sleuth. Alex is noted for her smart mouth and inquiring mind. So when her friend and former employer Everett Carson, the difficult and demanding publisher of the country's most controversial black magazine, Diaspora, is late for the National Association of Black Journalists' annual convention banquet (at which he is to receive the prestigious Journalist of the Year award), she leads another old friend and fellow journalist Paul Buffer off to find the man of the hour. Carson turns up dead, in his bed in his hotel suite, under suspicious circumstances.

Formerly a fast-talking 'Bama boy with cornbread crumbs flaking endearingly from the corners of his mouth, Ev Carson had risen to become a sharply dressed, well-regarded power player in media boardrooms and bedrooms alike. The tangled threads of his business and romantic alliances and rivalries mean a crew of suspects. (And, although this brother loudly professed his preference for women "in a plain brown wrapper," he turns out to have many conquests across a broader array of hues.)

Alex's investigative reporting skills and her insider status get her tapped by the white detective in charge to help him close the case. Her white boss gives her the time off from the newsroom, plus the use of an expense account. His reasons for doing this are less for the opportunity to land a scoop for the Los Angeles Standard than to pay a favor owed to the LAPD. Alex and her chosen sidekick Paul Butler then set off on a two-week cross-country snoopfest that takes them to Carson's memorial service in Washington, D.C., and through the offices of three other major black magazine competitors in New York and San Francisco, plus a brief getaway to Martha's Vineyard--always ending up in fashionable luxury hotels and shopping districts, showplace homes or weekend retreats, gourmet restaurants or cozy watering holes. With a sassy quip always ready for any situation--danger and romance alike--Alex solves the crime and gets her story. The bonus offered by Plain Brown Wrapper is a wise and wickedly satirical perspective on today's black media and those of us who will live and die for it.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:McHenry, Susan
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2001
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