Thursday, December 28, 2017

Heard: "Oregon Hill" by Howard Owen

Heard: Oregon Hill by Howard Owen, 2012 (print), download.

Newspaper guy writes novel about a newspaper guy in the newspaper business doing newspaper reporting. I listen to the book and enjoy it quite a bit.

After hearing Whoreson I looked to see what else Kevin Kenerly narrated and chose this. First novel in a series featuring Virginia newspaper reporter Willie Black. Black is a hard drinking, slutty, unreliable guy in his 50s. He has three ex-wives, a distant relationship with his college daughter, works in a dying industry, and his "Screw you, asshole" attitude often leaves him in trouble at work. That work trouble has him off the cushy job of capitol political reporter and working the third shift crime beat as a Night Cops Reporter.

Black grew up in the titular area of Richmond, VA called Oregon Hill. During Black's childhood the area was working poor white people. Black's flighty mother moved her and Willie around from boyfriend to boyfriend. Half-black and half-white Willie is light skinned and avoided a good amount of racial conflict that way. Black still has friends on Oregon Hill and his mother now lives there with he current, and long-lasting, boyfriend.

When a co-ed turns up murdered and decapitated Willie catches the story. Willie then also catches interviews with both the arrested suspect and the the suspect's mother. Willie sees some inconsistencies and chases the story. Since this is a mystery novel those consistencies lead Willie to the real killer and all the danger and trouble that entails.

Things happen. Willies Boyfriend-in-law has dementia and Peggy his mother - Willie only calls her by her first name - calls Willie to talk the ex-roofer/ex-baseball player off the roof or from the ballpark. Willie talks to his daughter. Willie talks to his ex-wives. Willie drinks a lot. A LOT. Willie unravels the truth about the connections between a decades old murder, the new murder, rich people, local history, one of his neighbors, the burglaries within his own apartment building.

This is not a cozy. This is not quite a procedural. Willie is a neat character. Willie's professional life has years of success that don't matter a damn bit in a struggling economy and with a financially strapped local newspaper cutting staff to cut costs. Willie is a successful reporter but his higher salary makes him expendable. Willie has passed as an "exotically colored" white guy since he was a boy. He seems to have not had to deal much with race issues and I don't think he is comfortable with who he is. That's an angle Owen explores more in the second novel.

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