Room to Swing

Room to Swing - Ed Lacy It's a shame that this 1958 Edgar Award-winner for Best Novel isn't more popular than it is. It's a solid piece of detective fiction and one of the first novels to feature a black private detective as the main character. It's sort of a forerunner to the popular Easy Rawlins series. In the book, we follow Toussaint "Touie" Moore, a small-time detective who's clients mostly stem from the "black" jobs that his white colleagues throw at him. He's trying to make the transition from being a club bouncer to running a legit private dick business. So when a TV executive approaches him with a high paying job to simply keep tabs on a criminal before he's nabbed on an interactive, true-crime "reality" show, he jumps at the opportunity. But things go sour when the guy ends up with his skull bashed in and Touie is framed for the rap!

Toussaint is completely atypical of your classic standard private dick. While most popular fiction detectives are usually jaded and cynical, Touie is bright-eyed and hopeful, making big plans for his new detective career, while his high-maintenance girlfriend Sybil threatens to dash his dreams. She calls it a dead-end career and pressures him to accept the square post office job that is offered to him early on in the novel. All of this makes his character very relatable and less of a brooding pessimist that many hard-boiled detectives turn out to be. The mystery is enjoyable, the TV show element is surprisingly modern and ahead of it's time, and the racial commentary is never forced and well-integrated. This is a good read that should be better known in the crime genre.