Richly conceived if sometimes garbled in the telling, this novel by the author of the official tie-in to the Spielberg movie Amistad relates the story of 12-year-old Edward Massey, chubby self-appointed boy detective, and his summer adventures at Rehoboth Beach. The year is 1962, and Edward and his family have escaped the festering gang violence of steamy Philadelphia to spend the summer in deceptively cool Rehoboth, Del. The beach-town community, now the playground of the wealthy but originally settled by those seeking religious unity and escape from the moral decay of cities, is a world of contrasts, with its segregated beaches and restricted areas. The white inhabitants depend on the African-American residents to staff hotels, restaurants and homes, but do their best to ignore their presence. Edward's Aunt Edna is a pillar of Rehoboth's black community, the owner of a restaurant and candy store where the black townspeople gather. For five years, Edward and his family have spent their summers with her, and for five years Edward has wondered about the man living in a shack on Aunt Edna's property, a man he is told to call "Uncle Rufus." This summer, primed by his reading of Agatha Christie tales, he is determined to solve the mystery of Uncle Rufus. His investigations take him into dangerous territory, and he comes to learn much about love, murder and redemption. Pate's characters are fully imagined, breaking from stereotype, but his prose is rocky and disjointed in places, perspectives skipping unsteadily from speaker to speaker. Middle-class black life in the 1960s is ably captured, but the convincing scene-setting may not be able to distract readers from lapses at the sentence level.(Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A profoundly affecting story about a bright black kid's first brushes with bigotry, in a fifth novel from the award-winning author of The Multicultiboho Sideshow (1999), etc. It's 1962, early July, in sizzling, smoldering North Philly-no place for a 12-year-old African-American who happens to prefer Agatha Christie to street fighting. Every summer Edward Massey's working-class parents, fiercely protective, hustle him out of town and down to Rehoboth Beach, where his Aunt Edna runs a thriving restaurant/boardinghouse. Well, not Rehoboth Beach exactly, Jim Crow being what it was back then, but rather West Rehoboth, that "coloreds only" country on the other side of the canal. Aunt Edna, a remote, unsmiling woman who makes Edward nervous, is a person to reckon with in her volatile community, but it's the man mysteriously connected to her, the one he's been taught to call Uncle Rufus, who fascinates Eddie, and who challenges his cherished alter ego, Hercule Poirot. He decides, therefore, to devote the summer to ratiocination, to solving the puzzle of this scary, hard-drinking semi-recluse through investigation and logic. But why won't people answer any questions about Rufus? Where does he go when he disappears from the shack that seems to be his Elba? And, most vexing of all, how could he have brought himself to murder Eddie's pet, the turtle Mr. Peabody? Circumstances throw them together, the bitter old man and the precocious, tirelessly inquisitive young boy. Rufus, drunk, smashes up his truck with Eddie in it. Both are pinned in the wreckage, and while they wait for rescue, Eddie, somehow, embarks on a strange, sort of metaphysical journey into Rufus's other world-a world in which youngRufus was free to make choices that didn't result in rage, defeat, and, inevitably, self-hatred. What Pate, writing from the heart, makes particularly vivid is the way endemic, inescapable racism suffocates and ruins.